Sunday, January 20, 2019

A good why I am atheist film

By Mathew Goldstein

John Follis was raised by religious parents and schooled by his church to be a believer. He produced a successful advertising campaign for his New York city church. Repeated mismatches between his religious beliefs, his life experiences, and new information and arguments, initially challenged and then eventually changed his beliefs. A little over three months ago he published his “why I am an atheist” story as a forty-five minute documentary film Leaving God.  His film is good, if you have the time it is worthwhile to view.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Counselors not religious chaplains

J
By Mathew Goldstein

Government chaplains are justifiable as an accommodation of free exercise of religion when the government makes it difficult or impossible to seek out private ministries, as may be the case for some prisoners and military personnel. Maryland hires religious prison chaplains and pays them a salary. Law enforcement and emergency services employees have the same access to private ministries as most citizens. Yet Maryland state, county, and municipal governments also allows law enforcement and various emergency services departments to hire, equip, and reimburse non-salaried, volunteer, religious chaplains. A few examples are shown below.


Candidate Prerequisites are:

Ecclesiastically certified, and a licensed or ordained clergy, imam, priest or rabbi in good standing, and endorsed in writing from their ecclesiastical authority to serve as a law enforcement chaplain


Actively engaged in ministry, this may include retired clergy capable of fulfilling the duties of a police chaplain

Able to provide documentation supporting a minimum of five years active in ministry service


III. Qualifications

C. A Police Chaplain must be ordained, invested, or a certified member of the clergy in good standing of a recognized religious ecclesiastical denomination with at least five (5) years of full-time experience in the ministry.

D. A Police Chaplain must submit an endorsement from their denomination allowing for participation in the program. This endorsement will be submitted on a bi-yearly basis.

F. It is preferred that a Police Chaplain reside in Montgomery County or be associated or affiliated with a religious institution in Montgomery County. On a case by case basis, the Chief of Police or their designee may allow a chaplain not residing in or having an affiliation with a religious institution in Montgomery County to be a member of the program.


Director, Personnel Section

1. Ensure Police Chaplain applicants meet the following minimum eligibility requirements:

1.1. Licensed or ordained, practicing member of the clergy in good standing with a recognized religious organization.

1.2. Positively recommended by an appropriate authority within the individual’s respective denomination, such as a Bishop, District Superintendent, Head of Convention, etc.
….
1.5. Minimum of five years’ ministry experience.

City of Bowie TITLE: POLICE CHAPLAIN

IV. CHAPLAIN QUALIFICATIONS

V.

A. Must be a licensed or ordained minister of their faith;

Chaplains are trained to view the world and its problems through the lens of a religion and a god, a view inapposite to non-believers and believers in competing religions. About 23 percent of adult Americans, including about 35 percent of Americans under 30, are not religious. When a department hires only people who qualify on religious criteria to provide spiritual support they are falsely implying that only religious counseling is valid. Even when this is done on a volunteer basis it functions as an endorsement of religious beliefs over competing non-religious beliefs by the department.

Does your municipality or county hire volunteer chaplains? What are the qualifications for the job? A counselor’s credentials should be based on education, training, experience, and suitability for the job. Both chaplains and lay volunteers should be equally eligible for the office, uniforms, equipment, and expense reimbursements. Volunteer counselors should not be required to be affiliated with, or approved by, a religious organization. Restricting appointments to ordained clergy does not further a valid business purpose. Certification by a chaplaincy association, a theology degree, and clerical experience, should not be a requirement or an expectation. In the agency’s policies and procedures manual and the hiring announcements there should no mention of religion, spiritual guidance, God or prayer. Insignia should be generic symbols such as a shield, wreath, etc., not religious symbols. Liturgical vestments should not be worn while in uniform.

Examples of voluntary, secular, counseling service providers for emergency services support include the Trauma Intervention Program Inc. http://www.tipnational.org/ and The Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Foundation http://lecf.org/. They train citizen volunteers to respond to traumatic incidents at the request of police, fire, and hospital personnel to support those who are emotionally traumatized. Because these are secular, non-discriminatory, equal opportunity, organizations they can be government subsidized.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

What is the Endgame with Trump?

A problem with President Trump has been that he is entertaining, for people in a certain frame of mind.  There is the question of how much money he is really worth and what's in his tax forms that he is keeping secret.  There is the question of how much money he has gotten from Russian oligarchs or mobsters.  There are the everyday Tweets that you have to ask, "Really?  Does he seriously believe that? Does he expect us to believe it?  Does he know that he just lied about something he said that is on video?"  These questions and many other have supported a cottage industry of media reporters and commentators about what he will say next.

Our New Year's Resolution should be to ignore all this entertaining stuff, or at least treat it as entertainment by a professional clown or a village idiot.  What matters is what Trump is doing to American democracy and the American goals and aspirations.

Historian Kathleen Hall Jamieson has argued that the Russian interference may well have decided the 2016 election in favor of Trump.  A lot of information about the election is already public knowledge.  Trump won in the Electoral College because of <100,000 votes in three states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan while losing the popular vote.  More information will be released when the Mueller investigation issues a report, which may be as soon as February.  The question is not about the 100,000 votes, of course, but the fraction of votes cast for Trump that were influenced by social media ad campaigns.  It is possible that will never be known.  It also appears that Trump was a lucky recipient of the new methods that social media companies like Facebook perfected in order to target ads.   The emotion-laden, one-sided ads were specifically targeted toward users with specific interests and intended to keep Facebook members online.  Because the users weren't aware that they were the targets of these ads, they didn't know that they were hype and "fake news."  An article by Mark Dunbar was just published in The Humanist magazine on this topic.

Having the election process compromised by a foreign government is clearly a threat to the democratic process.  Another is Trump's willingness to shut down part of the government in order to get funding for his campaign talking point, the border wall.  These issues get a lot of attention.

A problem that gets much less publicity is the sheer inattention that has been given to the routine, boring business of running the government.  A recent book on this issue is The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis (whose books include Moneyball and The Big Short), reviewed by Fintan O'Toole in the New York Review of Books. The book indicates that Trump and his staff are woefully unprepared to run the government.  As O'Toole writes, they had "deliberate chaos, willful ignorance, and strategic incompetence," which they viewed as virtues.  The Republican policy since Ronald Reagan has stated that government can't be trusted.  Trump has taken that to extremes, either through intent or sheer incompetence.  He simply hasn't tried to manage the government.  By doing such a bad job, and by appointing people who are incompetent to key positions, it is possible to make the case that the government really is useless.  Add to that the fact that most Americans don't really understand what government agencies do or how much they rely on the agencies for their safety.

In spite of this lack of interest or competence in governing, and in spite of multiple investigations, it is not clear what the ending of the Trump Administration could be.  He seems intent on running for reelection in 2020, and many in Congress seem resigned to coexisting with him.  Is it possible that this president could occupy the office for 8 years?  Lewis's book seems to indicate that many functions of the federal government could be degraded by then.  

Could Trump actually resign, although he seems incapable of admitting that he ever did anything wrong?  Any other president in history, if faced with this amount of scandal and incompetence, would have had enough honor to resign.  

Or could Trump and Pence both be forced out by impeachment, leaving President Pelosi?  It doesn't look like Republicans in the Senate would stand for that.

Or, most troubling for democracy, would Trump simply refuse to leave, and rely on his base of supporters (who include many owners of firearms) and members of the Senate to back him up, to remain a dictator for life?  

How much more outrageous behavior can we expect from Trump?  2019 could be an interesting year.




Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Jesus: Fact or Fiction?

By Mathew Goldstein

This essay, Jesus: Fact or Fiction?, is a recently updated version of a presentation given to the Iowa City Secular Humanists several years ago. Although the author, Peter Nothnagle, is not a credentialed expert on this topic, his presentation is good in all respects and therefore worth your time to read if you are interested in this topic: It is well written and appears to be well researched and thought out. Plus, it mostly matches with my own opinion on this topic, bingo.

It is implausible that many of the famous stories of Bible are non-fictional. Yet at the same time, it is plausible that some of these stories have origins in actual historical events. So Noah’s Ark may have been inspired by a large flood, Sodom and Gemorrah may have inspired by a meteor that destroyed a city, the Exodus may have been inspired by a series of natural disasters that resulted in a large migration of people away from a civilization collapse, various stories written in the gospels may have been inspired by retellings of what various preachers said, etc.. There is some evidence to support scenarios like this.  Yet some people appear to be overly eager to draw connections between the religious texts and historical events, so skepticism is warranted, with the greatest skepticism for the events that would have occurred long before the text was written.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

What are Democrats and Republicans Fighting About?

The U.S. political system is a two-party political system. Other countries with parliamentary systems have minority, specialized parties. The prime minister has the job of assembling a ruling coalition of several parties, and sometimes the small parties have disproportionate power in making a majority. The specialized small parties, like the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, can assemble a group of interested people and apply that group directly to the legislative assembly.

In the U.S., minority parties are pretty powerless, because the winning majority party can control much of the legislative or executive branches of government. There are lots of special interest groups, but they have to go to the leadership of one of the parties and get the party to endorse their issue. So all the people who are passionately interested in women's issues or in climate change can't directly appeal to a legislator in a special party. They can join a nonprofit group, and that group sends many reminders to vote or to attend protests. But those passionate people may end up feeling like their votes don't count, unless something brings their issue to the top of the priority list of one of the two parties.

So Democrats and Republicans fight, one on one. But what they fight about changes from year to year, issue to issue, depending on what gets "traction" or attention and gets people to show up to vote. Democrats are generally called liberal and Republicans are conservative, but what does that mean?

Paul Rosenberg wrote an article, "Did Trump destroy the conservative movement? No--he cashed in on its darkest tendencies," in Salon.com, on Oct. 28, 2018.  A point of Rosenberg's article is that definitions of what is liberal and what is conservative keeps changing over time, and each party has a mix of both, to the extent that we can even tell which is which. Policies change for each election, and even the definitions of liberal and conservative vary. 

According to Rosenberg, a main difference between the parties is really psychological. Conservatives tend to be worried about dangers and fearful about the future. They expect that they will have to handle the danger by themselves. In some cases, those dangers may come from other people who can't be trusted or relied on. As a result, they want freedom to do what they need to without restrictions. If they feel threatened and want to buy lots of guns, they want to be able to. So they focus on certain rights.

Liberals, on the other hand, tend to be empathic and more aware about other people's problems. They also can see dangers, but think they will be threatened by problems that already affect other people. They are more inclined to cooperate with others to solve common problems. So if they see that lots of people are getting shot, their response is to control access to guns, not to get more guns for themselves to shoot the "bad guys."

These are general individual psychological methods that people tend to use. The methods are expanded to view the state of society. So people tend to join the party that represents their way of thinking. The approach can apply to many situations and aren't restricted to particular issues. So if people see a social problem that gets on the national party's agenda, the individuals gravitate to a solution that is agreeable to their way of thinking.

This can lead to policies that look contradictory on a rational, ideological basis. Republicans are in favor of gun rights so they can shoot people in self defense. They favor capital punishment to kill the worst criminals. But they are opposed to abortion rights, arguing that unborn fetuses are innocent and don't deserve to be killed. 

Democrats, on the other hand, empathize with adults, concluding that no adult deserves to die regardless of their threat or crime. So criminals shouldn't be shot or executed. Unborn fetuses may seem innocent, but they require years of support by willing parents, and the unwillingness of the adult mother can outweigh the right of an fetus that can't survive on its own.

As Rosenberg pointed out, it's easy to find examples of times when parties changed their priority issues. Republican were for civil rights and Democrats were opposed, until suddenly under President Johnson they reversed. Republican Richard Nixon started the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the environment, until Republicans Ronald Reagan and the Bushes opposed it and Democrats Bill Clinton and Al Gore supported it. Republican Eisenhower was fiscally conservative and promoted a balanced budget, opposing Democrat Franklin Roosevelt's deficit spending, until Republicans Reagan and G. W. Bush generated larger budget deficits than any of their predecessors because of tax cuts. Trump has carried on this tradition with a huge tax cut.


It is a common complaint among American voters that both parties are for rich people, and there isn't really much difference. Of course, when Republican get a president like Donald Trump, the character of the party can change based only on the whims of the leader, and ideology goes by the wayside.

Ideology based on reason or a liberal/conservative dichotomy is not necessarily the foundation of the parties, and it is pointless to expect consistency. The pragmatic problem of assembling an enthusiastic coalition of people and winning elections is the basic requirement. 

In a larger picture, politics is about assembling a coalition of people with related self-interest to form a cooperating voting majority. This was the purpose of political parties as they arose under Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. It is done when party leaders find particular biases, fears, and hopes that can be used by politicians to unite a majority of people into supporting them. This effort has to be done interactively, so that one year people care about deficit spending, and they next they are more interested in tax cuts.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

John Gray’s pessimistic, pro-religion, atheism

By Mathew Goldstein

The Vox website says that “Vox's journalists candidly shepherd audiences through politics and policy, business and pop culture, food, science, and everything else that matters.” An interview by Vox’s agnostic journalist Sean Illing with atheist John Gray was recently published October 31 under the title “Why science can’t replace religion” with the subtitle “John Gray on the myths the “New Atheists” tell themselves.” Although I have not read John Gray’s book, Seven Types of Atheism, here is some commentary on that interview.

Sean Illing begins with the comment that the question - does god exist - is probably unanswerable. He then says ‘That’s probably why I’ve always found the so-called “New Atheists” misguided in their critiques of religion.’ A question about how our universe operates is unanswerable when available empirical evidence cannot favor one answer over competing answers. Sean Illing could claim that religious supernaturalism versus non-religious naturalism is unanswerable because no amount of empirical evidence will provide decisive proof with absolutely zero chance of being mistaken. But that is an impractical standard that no one applies in any other similar context, and as such is a double standard that must be discarded in any balanced, reasonable, discussion.

When we discover something new about how the universe operates it is sometimes possible to evaluate whether that new discovery is more consistent with the constraints of naturalism or with the absence of such constraints. Therefore, the overall available empirical evidence is not silent or missing on this question. Therefore, this question is answerable by the only reliable method we have to adjudicate such a question: Best fit with the overall available empirical evidence. Before we declare that this question is unanswerable, we need some explanation for why we should disregard the large amount of empirical evidence that we have that our universe operates within the constraints of naturalism and the corresponding lack of good evidence to the contrary.

Sean Illing says “New Atheism is a literary movement that sprung up in 2004, led by prominent authors like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens.” Sean Illing is exhibiting a bias here by miscategorizing atheism, an intellectual conclusion regarding how the universe operates, as a “literary movement” such as Misty Poets or New Formalism.

He then says atheists fail to recognize that “religion is so much more than a set of claims about the world”. Religion without claims about how the universe operates is akin to frying without heat. Yes, frying food is about more than placing items in hot oil. But at the end of day, regardless of the fact that frying food is about more than the mechanics of frying, without the mechanics of frying there is no fried food. People can, and no doubt there are people who do, go through the motions of being religious, by worshipping a deity they do not believe in, by praying to deity they do not believe listens, by observing holidays honoring events that they do not believe occurred. But then it a social activity cloaked in a religious veneer which could easily be replaced by strictly secular social activities, it is no longer a genuinely religious activity anymore. This is what is so misguided about the “it’s about so much more than a set of claims about the world.” Many claims about the world are about more than the claims in isolation because claims about the world can also have implications for us. Claims about how the world functions are foundational for our decision making. This is all the more reason to try to be careful to try to get it right when making claims about how the world operates.

The interview then focuses on John Gray’s criticisms of his fellow atheists. John Gray equates religious myths with “myths of human advancement, myths of what science can and cannot do, and all kinds of other myths” that he claims animate other atheists. He disagrees with Steven Pinker’s argument that the numbers demonstrate that the scientific revolution has brought with it large gains for the quality of human lives. Steven Pinker collected a lot of hard evidence on behalf of his argument. His dismissing Pinker's arguments as myths akin to the myth that Moses parted the Reed (or Red) Sea is unfair.

John Gray characterizes religions as “profound, as inexhaustibly rich” and claims other atheists are “mostly ignorant of religion”. Yet John Gray is himself an atheist. This implies that such additional insight and knowledge regarding religion still falls short in justifying religious beliefs. Yet he does not appear to be eager to share with his audience why he is an atheist. Instead, he points out that human minds evolved for survival, not for rationality, implying that religious beliefs are not rational. He considers it foolish to claim “we have no need for religion anymore”, implying that religious beliefs are needed for human survival. Looking around, we see different countries with different degrees of religiosity. The evidence we have not only does not support, it tends to oppose, the notion that the less religious countries are the weaker countries. The approach of pitting rationality against survival implies that there is a conflict between the two, but that is arguably an artificial conflict, there need not be a conflict.

I do not know the basis for John Gray’s claim that the stories in the book of Genesis “were understood by Jewish thinkers and theologians of the time as parables.” But let’s assume this is true for the sake of argument. Genesis obtains it special authority by claiming to reveal the actual actions of an actual god that people then worshipped and prayed to, thus giving us very good reason to think they believed this particular god existed. So insofar as thinkers or theologians did not interpret Genesis as revealing the actual actions of an actual god, insofar as they also failed to tell their fellow Jews that Genesis was a fictional parable, they were misleading their constituency.

Today there is an additional problem here that was less acute a thousand years ago. The story of Genesis contradicts modern knowledge. John Gray dismisses this problem on the grounds that the Torah (and presumably also the Bible, Quran, and the holy books of other religions) never was, and is not, about knowledge, but instead is about creating, and finding, meaning. Yet if Jewish thinkers and theologians were knowingly and deliberately misleading their constituency about the fictional nature of god and the Torah, they were presumably doing so because creating and finding meaning from the religion was, and presumably still is, rooted in believing that particular holy books are revealing factual knowledge about a real, existing God, or supernatural realm. If this is not the case then why was denying the existence of god considered to be a punishable criminal offense in John Gray’s United Kingdom for many centuries, and why is that still the case in some countries?

John Gray acknowledges that “ideas do have consequences.” He does not tackle the question of whether false ideas are more likely to flourish with bad consequences in those societies where ideas about how the universe operate are unanchored in empirical evidence and thus not well constrained. Instead, he points out that both non-religious and religious ideas can be bad ideas. True, but isn’t the truth versus falsity of beliefs also a factor here, and if it is a factor isn’t that reason to place value on that distinction? Ultimately, theism and atheism are conclusions about how universe operates. So if we want to avoid bad consequences then maybe a better focus is to take the distinction between poorly justified and well justified beliefs, as measured by the criteria of best fit with the available empirical evidence, seriously.

He claims that “we should regard religions as great works of imagination rather than pictures of the world intended to capture what is empirically true” and that “any atheism that fails to do this ... probably make the mistake of smuggling religious assumptions into their secular alternative to religion.״ Smuggling in the word “empirically” here is weaselly because religions exhibit a self-interested tendency to claim that empiricism is biased, too restrictive, or unreliable and that circular faith (they deny, or do not acknowledge, the circularity) is epistemologically more important, reliable, and valuable. John Gray identified Pascal as one of three “very clever” philosophers, so he should be aware that Pascal’s Wager is a good example of a non-empirical, or anti-empirical, and therefore weak, justification for believing religious claims about how the universe functions. John Gray is trying to convert a third person discussion about religious beliefs into a first person self-assertion of those religious belief by the atheist speaker. He appears to want to try to convince his audience that when an atheist claims that religious beliefs are distinct and different from non-religious beliefs then ipso-fact that atheist has somehow adopted those religious beliefs. This seems to be a deliberate strategy to try to discourage honest conversation by atheists about religious beliefs. That transparently false strategy will not work. We know that various beliefs, such as the belief that not worshipping, or not having faith, prompts god to initiate deadly weather events, or the belief that macro-evolution is a false conspiracy of dishonest scientists, mostly originate from, and are mostly promoted by, religions. We know that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. make different and distinct, sometimes incompatible, factual claims. John Gray’s description of religion as lacking any intention to assert what is true lacks integrity. He is falsely redefining religion as something akin to a set of fantasy novel books like Lord of the Rings.

He then generalizes that we all “live by our fictions.” If we “all” fail to live with no fictions then therefore it makes no difference if we live by fewer fictions? Does John Gray prefer cleverness over integrity? How does John Gray define sophistry? He does not like people who are conceited and claim to stand above others. Good advice. At the same time, publicly arguing for beliefs is a secular activity. Arguing that particular conclusions or ethics are better is not a religious activity. Atheists who publicly argue for atheism are not ipso-facto adopting religious beliefs or practices. Keeping silent about why we favor atheism is not an attribute of the genuine, or a better, atheism.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Caruso versus Dennett on free will

By Mathew Goldstein

Aeon “is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.” Gregg D Caruso is professor of philosophy at SUNY Corning in New York. Daniel Dennett is professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. This debate format article is 47 paragraphs. Professor Caruso, who argues for incompatibilism, makes the stronger/better argument in my opinion. You can decide for yourself by reading their arguments: https://aeon.co/essays/on-free-will-daniel-dennett-and-gregg-caruso-go-head-to-head

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Private school vouchers promote miseducation

By Mathew Goldstein

Governor Hogan reintroduced his “Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today”, a.k.a. BOOST, private school vouchers as part of his budget this year. Most private schools are religious and secular private schools are more likely to be disqualified for exceeding the $14,000 per year tuition limit. Governor Hogan said he wanted to double last year’s allocation for BOOST, but his budget bill actually allocated $8.5 million. The General Assembly at first reduced that to $5 million, the same amount allocated last year, and then decided on $7 million. This year’s Democratic Party candidate for Governor, Ben Jealous, opposes private school vouchers.

All youth everywhere should be educated in modern knowledge without omissions or qualifications. Our collective knowledge is rooted in an international consensus of subject matter experts that is logically derived using a best fit with the available empirical evidence criteria. Finding empirical evidence and convincingly relating the evidence to conclusions requires effort and time. The history of the pursuit of knowledge demonstrates that this epistemology is uniquely successful, there is no other approach that reliably reaches accurate conclusions about how our universe functions. Beliefs about how the universe functions that are derived outside the aforementioned framework are not knowledge. Teaching such beliefs to children as if they are knowledge is miseducation.

There are few restrictions on what private schools can teach their students, and so they may mix academics, religion, and politics tightly together. Religious schools often have an institutional self-interest to try to convince children to accept the school’s definition of deity. They may actively teach children to distrust and fear competing perspectives, including secular academics. Some religious schools teach children blatant falsehoods that contradict modern scientific consensus, such as young earth creationism. Young children are impressionable, teenagers are responsive to peer pressure, and as a result they are vulnerable to indoctrination. They may be taught that faith is one of the most important virtues, that one faith is superior to all other faiths, that they will be severely punished for disbelieving and greatly rewarded for believing, that particular beliefs about how the universe functions are requisite for morality. The result is potentially harmful miseducation that undermines the targeted victim’s intellectual potential and can be difficult to undo.

BOOST private school vouchers will finance such miseducation from sectarian publishers. Private schools that qualified for BOOST vouchers in 2018 included:

Abeka textbooks: Calvary Christian Academy, Elvaton Christian Academy, Greater Grace Christian Academy, Kings Christian Academy and Mount Pleasant Christian School utilize textbooks from publisher A Beka Book (“Abeka”).  Abeka takes a biblical literalist and young Earth creationist position in its science curriculum and falsely portrays the Genesis creation narrative as fact.

BJU Press textbooks: Calvary Christian Academy, Elvaton Christian Academy, Greater Grace Christian Academy, and Kings Christian Academy utilize textbooks from Bob Jones University Press (“BJU Press”). BJU Press promotes biblical inerrancy.

ASCI: Broadfording Christian Academy, Calvary Christian Academy, Chesapeake Christian School, Countryside Christian School, First Baptist School of Laurel, Grace Academy, Highland Park Christian Academy, Kings Christian Academy, Mount Pleasant Christian School, National Christian Academy, and Trinity Lutheran School belong to the Association of Christian Schools International (ASCI).  ASCI endorses intelligent design creationism.

ACE: Greater Youth Christian Academy is member of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) which promotes young earth creationism, declares solar fusion to be a myth invented by evolutionary scientists, and teaches that homosexuality is a choice.

AACS: The King's Christian Academy is a member of the American Association of  Christian Schools (AACS) that rejects ecumenism and promotes creationism.

CSI: Highland Park Christian Academy and Washington Christian School belong to the Christian Schools International (CSI) which endorses creationism. The fossil record and geology are given only three pages each in CSI science textbooks, none of which explore biological evolution.  Here is an excerpt from their science textbook: ‘Humans are also considered primates because we have the physical characteristics that define this order. Of course, we are more than primates. God forms us, unlike animals, in his image, and we alone have souls. God sets us apart from the rest of creation and even commands us to care for the rest of creation . . . So even though physically you may be considered a primate, remember that you are a child of God."’’  No mention is made of the central role that DNA has in identifying which species are primates independently of physical characteristics.

Seventh Day Adventists: Baltimore Junior Academy, George E Peters SDA elementary school, and Olney Adventist Preparatory School. At a gathering of science teachers on Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 the President of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Dr. Ted Wilson, told the international invitation-only gathering of about 350 Adventist high school and college science teachers, that they are obligated to teach young earth creationism: “We believe that the Biblical creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 was a literal event that took place in six literal, consecutive days recently as opposed to deep time. It was accomplished by God's authoritative voice and happened when He spoke the world into existence."  The Geoscience Research Institute, an organization sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, claims to gather data that supports a literal seven-day creation and subsequent worldwide flood as described in the Bible.

Even those religiously affiliated private schools that are the most ecumenical, that eschew holy book inerrancy, that seek to embrace modern knowledge, exhibit a tendency to add unsubstantiated religious content and avoid inconvenient scientific details when teaching children how the universe functions to promote their religious worldview, resulting in a subtly biased and compromised education. Schools that do not promote young or old earth creationism or intelligent design may instead promote theistic evolution. These schools may teach students that satan intervenes in our universe and associate satan with non-theism. They may teach about Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jonah, virgin birth, resurrection, etc. as if they were historical facts. The web site for Washington Christian Academy says “Our High School theology curriculum focuses on the reality and historicity of the life, work, and resurrection of Jesus, not only for our salvation, but also for living the ChristIan life.” When opposing perspectives are presented to the students it is often for the purpose of refuting them. A commitment to know the facts regarding how the universe functions and to understand how to reliably distinguish between well-justified and poorly justified assertions are valuable civic virtues that government should be fostering, not undermining with private school vouchers.

An often stated objective of BOOST is to help low-income students leave underperforming public schools. Yet in its first year of operation, almost 80% of the students receiving a voucher were already enrolled in a private school. Vouchers to fund private school scholarships are unlikely to provide better educational outcomes for Maryland’s children overall. At a Congressional House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on February 3, 2016 titled “Expanding Educational Opportunity through School Choice,” Luis Huerta, Associate Professor of Education & Public Policy at Columbia University, stated that none of the independent studies of the nation’s “most lauded and long-standing voucher programs…found any statistical evidence that children who utilized vouchers performed better than children who did not and remained in public schools.” However, Huerta said there is “evidence to support that[,] compared against students who participate in voucher programs, public school students fare better academically.”

Here are some recent voucher program analysis results:

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction report on Milwaukee Program: “Students in Milwaukee’s school choice program performed worse than or about the same as students in Milwaukee Public Schools in math and reading on the latest statewide test, according to results released Tuesday that provided the first apples-to-apples achievement comparison between public and individual voucher schools.”

MIT Study of Louisiana Program: “Attendance at an LSP-eligible private school lowers math scores by 0.4 standard deviations and increases the likelihood of a failing score by 50 percent. Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies are also negative and large. The negative impacts of vouchers are consistent across income groups, geographic areas, and private school characteristics, and are larger for younger children.”

Chalkbeat Education News on Indiana Program: “A new long-term study out of Indianapolis, done by researchers at Notre Dame University, found that students who switched from traditional public schools to Catholic schools actually did worse.“

While each of the schools is required to give standardized tests in certain grades to BOOST recipients, there is no requirement that they report the results to the state or that the students meet certain achievement levels. If this law is really about improving the quality of education and not about government subsidizing promotion of religious beliefs then BOOST eligible schools should be required to evaluate their students with the same standardized tests that public schools are required to utilize. The test scores for local public schools could then be compared with the test scores of the private schools that qualify for the vouchers. Vouchers would then be granted to those students attending an eligible private schools only if their local public school ranks lower than the private school.

If lawmakers want to reduce the cost of private education then they can provide additional funding to public schools to allow otherwise privately educated children to attend public school classes part time and/or to participate in public school sponsored extracurricular activities. Each county can have their own law regarding the extent to which their state public school classes and facilities are available to children who are otherwise receiving a private education. Private schools, and homeschooled children, are currently eligible to be lent the same government purchased textbooks that are utilized by the secular public schools. These approaches to assisting privately educated children avoid most of the problems that result from direct or indirect government funding of unaccountable private schools with parochial ideological agendas.