Scientists slam government’s religion course for high school students

Elective subject will set tests on acceptance of “the divine origin of the cosmos”

Pilar Álvarez
Religion students will be tested on their acceptance of the divine origin of the cosmos.
Religion students will be tested on their acceptance of the divine origin of the cosmos.José Manuel Pedrosa (EL PAÍS)

Spanish high school students who take religion will be tested according to the following guideline: “The student recognizes the divine origin of the cosmos with amazement, makes efforts to understand it, and is aware that it does not originate from chaos and chance.”

This statement is part of the latest religion curriculum, which the center-right Popular Party (PP) government recently approved and has now published in the Official Gazette.

The course description also includes assertions on “the individual’s inability to achieve happiness all by himself”

The new course description adapts the religion class to the latest education law, the LOMCE, which was pushed through Congress in 2013 despite widespread criticism from opposition parties. Changes to the previous curriculum, which dated back to 2007 under the previous Socialist administration, include the elimination of references to other religions other than Christianity and to issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

The course description, which also includes assertions regarding “the individual’s inability to achieve happiness all by him or herself,” has created such a stir that several opposition parties have demanded explanations in Congress.

EL PAÍS asked scientists, philosophers, educators and religion experts to analyze the content of the new course and offer comments on issues such as the divine origin of the universe.

“Nothing, from the point of view of science, justifies talking about the divine origin of the cosmos; this is clearly a creationist attitude that could lead to conflict among students,” says José Manuel Sánchez Ron, a professor of science history in the department of theoretical physics at Madrid’s Autónoma University (UAM) who sees “partiality” in the course contents.

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Regarding the fact that the course reviews the lives of two Christian scientists, Galileo Galilei and the Spaniard Miguel Servet, UAM theoretical physicist Alberto Casas notes that “to stress their religious faith is to undermine the universal nature of science.”

The religion curriculum has been drafted entirely by the country’s bishops (the Episcopal Conference) since Spain signed an agreement with the Holy See in 1979, and no Spanish government has attempted to change that since the country returned to democracy in the last 1970s.

Although religion is an elective course, the LOMCE has increased its relevance by making it count toward a student’s final grades, which it did not use to do. It also eliminated the alternative course of Citizen Education – which had received its fair share of criticism for allegedly indoctrinating students with the Socialist Party’s views on issues such as same-sex marriage – and has replaced it with Social and Civic Values.

Education Minister José Ignacio Wert came under fire for his reforms.
Education Minister José Ignacio Wert came under fire for his reforms.BERNARDO PÉREZ

“Faith is not a question of magic, faith and science are compatible,” says César Nombela, a professor of microbiology at the Complutense University and former president of the Scientific Research Council (CSIC). “As a scientist and as a believer, I am not afraid to know. The student of Catholic religion can be taught about the mistakes made by the Church. Science has explained that the cosmos originated nearly 14 billion years ago with the Big Bang, and faith has nothing to say against this, but beliefs can be included to try to understand what was there before everything else.”

Jesús Losada, a religion teacher, defends the items included in the new coursework, but criticizes the need for students to “express amazement” at the divine origin of things.

“That is not respectful of the student, who may or may not admire it; [teachers] are asked to evaluate something that is not easy to evaluate.”

A democrat should not vote for a party that insists on maintaining the agreements with the Holy See”

Fernando Savater, philosopher

“The problem lies in the very existence of a confessional subject that is organized by the bishops, taught by teachers who are selected by the bishops and paid for by the state,” says philosopher Fernando Savater. “A democrat should not vote for a party that insists on maintaining agreements with the Holy See.”

“This is a confessional course that tries to engage in proselytism, not to teach,” says Dionisio Llamazares, a professor emeritus of state ecclesiastical law at Complutense University and former chief of the state’s religious affairs between 1991 and 1993, under the Socialist administration of Felipe González. “What the LOMCE has done is to cave in to pressure from the Church.”

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