Is this garish goblet the true Holy Grail?

 Tuesday, April 1

Is this garish goblet the true Holy Grail?

The goblet is drawing big crowds in León, Spain
Cesar Manso/Getty Images
  • The goblet of the Infanta Dona Urraca
    The goblet is drawing big crowds in León, Spain Cesar Manso/Getty Images
Tom Whipple Science Correspondent
Last updated at 12:01AM, April 1 2014

To Indiana Jones, it was a simple carpenter’s cup. To Dan Brown, it was the earthly remains of Mary Magdalene. In Monty Python meanwhile, details of its location are guarded by the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and a ferocious rabbit.

It turns out they are all wrong. Because the Holy Grail, the relic which has inspired and tantalised Christendom for centuries, could in fact be a jewel-encrusted goblet on display in a small museum in northern Spain. And there are no rabbits in sight.

For two millennia, finding the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper, has been the, well, holy grail of archaeology. Now two historians claim to have identified a goblet held in the museum of the Basilica of San Isidoro in León that could be the true grail.

And despite the assertion by many, not least Harrison Ford inIndiana Jones and The Last Crusade, that the drinking vessel of an impoverished carpenter was unlikely to be ostentatious, it turns out that Jesus may have travelled with some exceedingly fancy glassware.

Until now the cup has been known as the goblet of the Infanta Dona Urraca, daughter of Fernando I, King of León from 1037 to 1065. But José Manuel Ortega del Rio and Margarita Torres from León University said that documents proved the upper part of this chalice, which has been dated to between 200BC and 100AD, is the one revered by early Christians.

The museum has had to look for a larger exhibition space to display the relic, after a book published by the historians, Kings of the Grail, brought overcrowding. While the pilgrims seem convinced, many archaeologists are not.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University, said: “This is idiotic, and there must be scores of cups making the same claim. The fact that someone may have dated this object as ancient, at best shows that it is ancient.”

If, as John Calvin said, there are enough fragments of the True Cross to fill a ship, then there are also enough holy grails to toast that ship’s launch many times over. In Europe alone, an estimated 200 goblets vie for the title.

However, where the two historians say this one stands out is in the documentation surrounding it. In 2011, two medieval Egyptian parchments were discovered that mentioned the chalice of Christ, saying it was taken from Jerusalem to Cairo. From there, records show that an emir in Muslim Spain received it as a reward for helping the Egyptians during a famine. Finally, it arrived in Christendom in the 11th century after being presented to King Fernando as a gift.

“The only chalice that could be considered the chalice of Christ is that which made the journey to Cairo and then from Cairo to León, and that is this chalice,” said Ms Torres.


Scientists find cosmic ripples from birth of universe

Published March 17, 2014

  • bicep 2 cosmic.jpg

    This NASA graphic shows the universe as it evolved from the big bang to now. Goddard scientists believe that the universe expanded from subatomic scales to the astronomical in a fraction of a second after its birth. (NASA/WMAP)

  • bicep 2 cosmic 2.jpg

    Gravitational waves from inflation generate a faint but distinctive twisting pattern in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background, known as a “curl” or B-mode pattern. For the density fluctuations that generate most of the polarization of the CMB, this part of the primordial pattern is exactly zero. Shown here is the actual B-mode pattern observed with the BICEP2 telescope, which is consistent with the pattern predicted for primordial gravitational waves. The line segments show the polarization strength and orientation at different spots on the sky. The red and blue shading shows the degree of clockwise and anti-clockwise twisting of this B-mode pattern. (BICEP2 COLLABORATION)

  • bicep 2 cosmic 1.jpg

    The tiny temperature fluctuations of the cosmic microwave background (shown here as color) trace primordial density fluctuations in the early universe that seeded the later growth of galaxies. These fluctuations produce a pattern of polarization in the CMB that has no twisting to it. Gravitational waves from inflation are expected to produce much a fainter pattern that includes twisting (“B-mode”) polarization, consistent with the pattern observed by BICEP2, which is shown here as black lines. The line segments show the polarization strength and orientation at different spots on the sky. (BICEP2 COLLABORATION)

  • bicep 2 cosmic 3.jpg

    The sun sets behind BICEP2 (in the foreground) and the South Pole Telescope (in the background). (STEFFEN RICHTER (HARVARD UNIVERSITY))

Astronomers have discovered what they believe is the first direct evidence of the astonishing expansion of the universe in the instant following the Big Bang — the scientific explanation for the birth of the universe some 13.8 billion years ago.

Scientists believe that the universe exploded from a tiny speck and hurled itself out in all directions in the fraction of a second that followed, beginning just 10 to the minus 35 seconds (roughly one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second) after the universe’s birth. Matter ultimately coalesced hundreds of millions of years later into planets, stars, and ultimately us.

And like ripples from a ball kicked into a pond, that Big Bang-fueled expansion caused ripples in the ancient light from that event, light which remains imprinted in the skies in a leftover glow called thecosmic microwave background.

Scientists still don’t know who kicked the ball.

But if confirmed, the newfound ripples would be amazing proof of what has long been mere theory about what happened in those first millionths of a second.

‘[It’s] a direct image of gravitational waves across the entire sky, showing us the early universe.’

– John Kovac, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

“The implications for this detection stagger the mind,” said Jamie Bock, professor of physics at Caltech, laboratory senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and project co-leader. “We are measuring a signal that comes from the dawn of time.”

“It would be the most important discovery since the discovery, I think, that the expansion of the universe is accelerating,” Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who is not a member of the study team, told Space.com. He compared the finding to a 1998 observation that opened the window on mysterious dark energy and won three researchers the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics.

The groundbreaking results came from observations by BICEP2, a telescope at the South Pole, of the cosmic microwave background — a faint glow left over from the Big Bang.

Beginning a fraction of a fraction of a second after the universe’s birth, according to the current theory, space-time expanded incredibly rapidly, ballooning outward faster than the speed of light. The afterglow from that expansion is called the cosmic microwave background, and tiny fluctuations in it provide clues to conditions in the early universe.

For example, small differences in temperature across the sky show where parts of the universe were denser, eventually condensing into galaxies and galactic clusters.

Since the cosmic microwave background is a form of light, it exhibits all the properties of light, including polarization. On Earth, sunlight is scattered by the atmosphere and becomes polarized, which is why polarized sunglasses help reduce glare. In space, the cosmic microwave background was scattered by atoms and electrons and became polarized too.

“Our team hunted for a special type of polarization called ‘B-modes,’ which represents a twisting or ‘curl’ pattern in the polarized orientations of the ancient light,” said Bock.

The team presented their work at a press conference Monda at Harvard — the discovery of that characteristic pattern of polarization in the skies, which they called proof of the gravitational waves across the primordial sky.

“This work offers new insights into some of our most basic questions: Why do we exist? How did the universe begin? These results are not only a smoking gun for inflation, they also tell us when inflation took place and how powerful the process was,” Harvard theorist Avi Loeb said.


Book Review: ‘One Simple Idea’ by Mitch Horowitz


Book Review: ‘One Simple Idea’ by Mitch Horowitz

Can holding the correct thoughts defeat illness, unhappiness and poverty?


Jan. 24, 2014 4:45 p.m. ET
‘One Simple Idea’ is a history of the positive thinking or “New Thought” movement, originating in America in the 19th century and continuing in various forms up to the present day. Mitch Horowitz calls it the “most enduring effort in modern history to forge a truly practical metaphysical approach to the needs and urgencies of daily life.” Seven of the book’s eight chapters describe just about every contributor to the New Thought/Positive Thinking movement: the famous, the infamous, the forgotten; the bright lights and dim bulbs. The cumulative effect certainly demonstrates the infiltration of New Thought philosophy into many domains of modern life and reveals how old these ideas are. “The Secret” is neither new nor a secret.

One Simple Idea

By Mitch Horowitz
Crown, 338 pages, $24

Getty Images

Though more than a century old, the New Thought movement, Mr. Horowitz argues, isn’t fully mature: “It is shot through with ethical shortcomings and internal contradictions.” For example, if positive thinking can keep us healthy, is a sick person at fault for not thinking positively enough? His goal is to resolve those internal contradictions while avoiding the dismissive skepticism that regards New Thought as “cotton-candy theology or a philosophy for dummies.” Readers, however, should be warned: They won’t hear from the many scientists who have discovered negative aspects in positive thinking.

The New Thought movement got under way with Phineas Quimby, a New England inventor whose “Mind Cure” approach was designed to correct the “false ideas” that kept people from achieving happiness. After Quimby, we learn about Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, who preached that “evil and sickness were unreal,” and Emma Curtis Hopkins, whom Mr. Horowitz describes as a “mystic, a suffragist, and a brilliant student of Christian Science,” a compliment as jarring as describing a contemporary anti-evolutionist as a brilliant student of creation science. Hopkins eventually split with Eddy and formed her own “mind-power philosophy,” taking the name New Thought from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s line, “to redeem defeat by new thought.” It stuck. By holding the right new thoughts, it was claimed, people could defeat illness, unhappiness and poverty.

As the 19th century came to a close, the prosperity gospel was ascendant. One of its preachers was Frances Lord, whose “Christian Science Healing” (1888) included a six-day program of “affirmations and exercises to break down the mental bonds of poverty.” “Money will come to serve you when you are fit to rule it,” she assured readers. If it doesn’t, you’re not fit—a claim that cannot be disproved. Mr. Horowitz describes Lord’s book as “a substantial and rigorous manual.” Rigorous?

Then we’re on to Prentice Mulford, who transformed the Law of Attraction from a mid-19th-century notion of a cosmic “law” allegedly governing where souls would dwell in the afterlife into the idea that by controlling your thoughts, you attract events that will fulfill your desires—usually, Mr. Horowitz explains, “in the form of money, goods, or career advancement.” It wasn’t coincidental, then or now, that the belief that holding the right thoughts can overcome poverty flourished as the income gap widened between rich and poor.

In the 20th century, New Thought gave rise to a series of “happy warriors” who “shaped positive thinking as it is understood today: as a program to successful living.” Among these were the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, physicians looking for ways the mind can heal the body, motivational speakers and religious leaders who believed that “faith ought to serve as a source of self-improvement” and not just salvation. Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 “The Power of Positive Thinking” was just one of many blockbusters on the theme.

Almost anyone who can be linked with positive-thinking appears in “One Simple Idea,” including Ronald Reagan. Mr. Horowitz documents how Reagan was influenced by friends who were tarot-card readers, astrologers and occult philosophers. Mr. Horowitz notes that Reagan’s famously cheerful disposition led him to ignore unwelcome information that was uncheerful. In this he “was influenced by various mystical and mind-power cultures, whose mark he left permanently stamped on America.” Permanently? Oh, dear. But Mr. Horowitz doesn’t mind Reagan’s lapses of critical thinking. Positive thinking is apparently all America needed.

In general, Mr. Horowitz so admires his subjects that he minimizes the failings of those who were bigoted or grandiose or who had what he gently calls “ethical shortcomings.” Christian Larson (1874-1962), who invented the modern language of self-help—including “attitude of gratitude,” “be all that you can be” and “make yourself over”—was a businessman whose “sunny metaphysics served to conceal a lack of personal accountability.” Larson cheated his creditors of hundreds of thousands of dollars and decamped for—where else?—California, where he followed his own advice to make himself over. But Mr. Horowitz forgives him because Larson wrote 40 books, and it takes “depths of passion and sincerity” to produce that many. Mr. Horowitz fails to consider that the depths of readers’ pockets would also be motivating.

Finally, we get to the last chapter: “Does It Work?” To answer this question we need to know what the “it” is, and we need to define “work.” Mr. Horowitz does neither. If the “it” is a spiritual philosophy and “work” is defined as providing meaning in life, then of course it “works” for believers like the author. If the “it” is the claim that our thoughts affect emotions and behavior, then, yes, it works. But many “its” of positive thinking don’t work as advertised. Among other things, optimists can be more vulnerable to depression when their rosy hopes are dashed. A large study recently found that it’s realistic pessimism that is associated with longevity, perhaps because pessimists take more health and safety precautions.

But Mr. Horowitz isn’t interested in research. He wonders why Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, overcame alcoholism, whereas Wilson’s mentor, Ebby Thacher, relapsed. Mr. Horowitz accepts the explanation of Wilson’s wife: “Bill wanted [sobriety] with his whole soul. Ebby may have wanted it simply to keep out of trouble.” Yet to say that Wilson wanted sobriety “with his whole soul” is nonsense as an explanation, and cruel nonsense at that. People want to survive cancer with their whole souls, too. The reasons for relapse are complex, and abstinence-only programs can increase the risk of relapse because once people fall off the wagon they may decide that sobriety or moderate drinking is an impossible goal.

“One Simple Idea” concludes with familiar New Age invocations of quantum mechanics, fMRI brain studies and mistaken claims that ESP has been demonstrated in the lab—all evidence, believers claim, that the mind can control the universe. It would be nice if all it took to cure our ills and make us rich was one simple idea. But if that were true, we would not have needed the dozens of colorful characters who populate this book to have kept telling us so.

—Ms. Tavris is the co-author, with Elliot Aronson, of “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me).”


Creation Museum says Science Guy Bill Nye will visit in February to debate creationism

Creation Museum says Science Guy Bill Nye will visit in February to debate creationism

Published January 02, 2014

| Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. –  Bill Nye “The Science Guy” is set to visit Kentucky to debate evolution and biblical creation with the founder of the Creation Museum.

Ken Ham wrote on his Facebook page Thursday that he will square off Feb. 4 with Nye, the former host of a popular science TV show for youths.

The event is likely to attract plenty of attention in scientific and faith circles, as Nye is a high-profile advocate of science education and Ham is a respected leader among Christians who believe the Bible’s origin story is a factual account of the Earth’s beginnings.


Ham had been hoping to attract the star of TV’s “Bill Nye The Science Guy” to the northern Kentucky museum after Nye said in an online video last year that teaching creationism was bad for children. The video was viewed nearly 6 million times on YouTube.

“Having the opportunity to hold a cordial but spirited debate with such a well-known personality who is admired by so many young people will help bring the creation-evolution issue to the attention of many more people, including youngsters,” Ham said in a release Thursday.

The Creation Museum has been lauded by supporters and prodded by scientists for exhibits that assert the Earth was created in a few days about 6,000 years ago. It also has displays with dinosaurs and humans living alongside each other, in contradiction to scientific findings that the two species were separated by more than 60 million years.

Nye said in an Associated Press interview in September that steering children away from evolution and teaching creationism would hurt scientific advances. Science has demonstrated that the Earth is billions of years old, and “if that conflicts with your beliefs, I strongly feel you should question your beliefs,” he told the AP.

Nye, who is executive director of the Planetary Society, said in that interview that he would be willing to travel to Kentucky and debate Ham if the museum paid his travel expenses.

An email message sent to Nye’s assistant was not returned Thursday. Nye agreed to participate in the debate early last month, said Mark Looy, vice president of outreach for Answers in Genesis, the ministry that operates the Creation Museum.

Ham said some “mocking, strident evolutionists” have invited him and other Creation Museum staff to debates in the past, but they have declined. Ham wanted to engage with Nye because, “as a serious advocate for his beliefs, Nye’s opinions carry weight in society,” Ham said in the release.

The event will be titled “Is Creation A Viable Model of Origins?” Tickets to the evening event at the museum’s Legacy Hall will be $25.


One-third of Americans don’t believe in evolution

One-third of Americans don’t believe in evolution


Published December 30, 2013

| FoxNews.com

Thirty-three percent of Americans believe that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time” rather than evolving gradually through a process of natural selection, as described by Charles Darwin more than 150 years ago.

And roughly a quarter of adults say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”

The numbers come from a new poll by Pew Research Center released Monday, which revealed that just six in ten Americans believe “humans and other living things have evolved over time.” The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

The survey also revealed remarkable divisions along political and religious lines when it comes to belief in evolution. Far more Democrats believe in it than Republicans, for example, and disbelief among the GOP is rising rapidly.

Roughly two-thirds of Democrats (67 percent) and independents (65 percent) say that humans have evolved over time, compared with less than half of Republicans (43 percent). And belief in the theory of evolution fell from 54 percent in 2009 to 43 percent today, the survey found. Opinion among both Democrats and independents has remained about the same.

Belief also correlates with religion, according to the survey.

A majority of white evangelical Protestants (64 percent) and half of black Protestants (50 percent) say that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, the survey found. But nearly eight-in-ten white mainline Protestants (78 percent) say that humans and other living things have evolved over time.



Let there be light: how the Universe looked after Big Bang

Let there be light: how the Universe looked after Big Bang

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This 50-million pixel all-sky image shows relic radiation from the Big Bang ESA/Planck Collaboration/PA
  • This 50-million pixel, all-sky image
    This 50-million pixel all-sky image shows relic radiation from the Big Bang ESA/Planck Collaboration/PA
Hannah Devlin Science Editor
Last updated at 11:32AM, March 22 2013

It may not be in bad shape for its age but the Universe is even older than previously thought, according to the most detailed survey of ancient cosmic background radiation.

The first major results from Europe’s Planck space mission suggest that the Universe began 13.81 billion years ago, nearly 100 million years earlier than previous estimates. It also contains significantly more dark matter, but the precise nature of this invisible substance remains completely mysterious, scientists said.

Announcing the results at the European Space Agency headquarters in Paris, Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s director-general, said: “The extraordinary quality of Planck’s portrait of the infant Universe allows us to peel back its layers to the very foundations, revealing that our blueprint of the cosmos is far from complete.”

George Efstathiou, of the University of Cambridge, suggested that while to the public the image might resemble “a dirty rugby ball or a piece of modern art”, there were “cosmologists who would have hacked our computers or maybe even given up their children to get hold of this map, we’re so excited by it”.

The all-sky map, based on 15½ months of observations from the £510 million telescope, shows tiny temperature fluctuations in the so-called cosmic microwave background. This, the oldest light in the Universe, has travelled billions of years to reach us after first being imprinted on the sky only 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

At that time the Universe was a hot dense soup of interacting protons, electrons and photons at about 2,700C (4,892F). When the protons and electrons first joined to form hydrogen atoms, the light was emitted.

This radiation acts as a “back light” that helps to illuminate the overall composition of the Universe. Charles Lawrence, a Planck scientist based at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “As that ancient light travels to us, matter acts like an obstacle course, getting in its way and changing the patterns slightly.”

The dark blue regions on the map represent the densest patches in space that went on to seed the formation of galaxies and clusters of galaxies that exist today.

The observations suggest that the ordinary matter that forms galaxies, stars and planets contributes just 4.9 per cent of the overall mass of the Universe, while dark matter makes up 26.8 per cent, a fifth more than was previously thought. Dark energy accounts for about 69 per cent, slightly less than thought.

Dark matter is perceived only through its gravitational influence, while dark energy is pushing our universe apart. Neither has been observed directly, but scientists hope that experiments at the Large Hadron Collider will do so.

Planck’s observations also appear to support theories describing “inflation”, a dramatic faster-than-light expansion of the universe immediately after the Big Bang. In far less time than the blink of an eye, the universe inflated in volume 100 trillion trillion times, the theory suggests.


How the Grand Canyon makes us religious

How the Grand Canyon makes us religious: Natural wonders increase our tendency to believe in God and the supernatural

  • Being awe-struck prompts people to try to explain the world, a study found
  • Participants were quizzed after watching clips from the BBC’s Planet Earth


PUBLISHED: 08:11 EST, 26 November 2013 | UPDATED: 08:30 EST, 26 November 2013

Amazing natural sights such as the the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights might increase people’s tendency to believe in God and the supernatural, according to new research by US scientists.

The findings suggest that awe-inspiring sights increase our motivation to make sense of the world around us, and may underlie a trigger of belief in the supernatural.

Psychological scientist Doctor Piercarlo Valdesolo, of Claremont McKenna College in the United States, said: ‘Many historical accounts of religious epiphanies and revelations seem to involve the experience of being awe-struck by the beauty, strength or size of a divine being, and these experiences change the way people understand and think about the world.

Heavens above: Researchers claim that gazing upon amazing natural sights such as the Grand Canyon (pictured) can lead to a belief in GodHeavens above: Researchers claim that gazing upon amazing natural sights such as the Grand Canyon (pictured) can lead to a belief in God


‘We wanted to test the exact opposite prediction: it’s not that the presence of the supernatural elicits awe, it’s that awe elicits the perception of the presence of the supernatural.’

Dr Valdesolo and his colleague Jesse Graham, of the University of Southern California, tested the prediction by having participants watch awe-inspiring scenes from BBC’s Planet Earth documentary series or neutral video clips from a news interview.


Afterwards, the participants were asked how much awe they felt while watching the video, and whether they believed that worldly events unfold according to some god’s or other non-human entity’s plan.


Thrill seekers ride 1,300 ft high Grand Canyon Swing

Study: Participants were shown scenes from the BBC's Planet Earth series and asked about religion afterwards. Pictured are the Iguazu Falls in Argentina, which featured in the showStudy: Participants were shown scenes from the BBC’s Planet Earth series and asked about religion afterwards. Pictured are the Iguazu Falls in Argentina, which featured in the show

Sneak peak: Participants who watched the awe-inspiring clips became increasingly intolerant of uncertaintySneak peak: Participants who watched the awe-inspiring clips became increasingly intolerant of uncertainty




Nature and a connection with the divine has long been observed, perhaps most famously by the Romantics.

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that began in Europe towards the end of the 18th century and peaked between 1800 and 1850.

Artists and philosophers who belonged to the movement emphasised the glory, beauty and power of the natural world. 

Feeling alienated by traditional religious beliefs, the romantics looked upon nature as the dwelling place of God. God and the natural universe were one and the same.

They saw nature as a metaphor for the sublime – the power and mystery of forces that inspired awe, solace and self-discovery.

Famous romantic Jean-Jacques Rousseau held that humans were by nature good but were corrupted by society. ‘Natural man’ was close to nature and unspoiled by social institutions.

The main reason for the development of this strong connection between nature and God was the Industrial Revolution, which caused many people to leave the countryside and live in cities, separating themselves from the natural world. 

The connection may also have arisen as a backlash against the scientific trend for enlightenment philosophy.

In addition to this, large areas of European and North American wilderness had been tamed, so that it had become much safer for people to travel to natural wonders.

Overall, the participants who had watched the awe-inspiring video tended to believe more in supernatural control, and were more likely to believe in God when compared with the news-watching group. 

The effect held even when awe-inspiring but impossible scenes, such as a massive waterfall through city streets, were presented.

Another study showed that participants who watched the awe-inspiring clips became increasingly intolerant of uncertainty. 

This particular mindset – a discomfort with uncertainty – may explain why feelings of awe produce a greater belief in the supernatural, according to the researchers.

Dr Valdesolo said: ‘The irony in this is that gazing upon things that we know to be formed by natural causes, such as the jaw-dropping expanse of the Grand Canyon, pushes us to explain them as the product of supernatural causes.’

However, the researchers also pointed out that the figures could also shed light on why certain individuals seek to explain the world through secular and scientific means.

The experience of awe may simply motivate us to search for explanations, no matter what kinds of explanations they are.

Dr Valdesolo said this might be why, in another experiment, participants who watched the awe-inspiring video showed greater discomfort and were more likely to believe a random string of numbers was designed by a human hand.

Based on their preliminary findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers are now looking at factors that modulate the effect of awe on belief in the supernatural.

For example, they are testing whether adopting submissive body postures, which make us feel less powerful, might dispose us to experiences of awe. 

Dr Valdesolo said such a link could perhaps explain the presence of such postures in religious practice, such as kneeling, bowing, and gazing up.

He added: ‘The more submissive we act, the more awe we might feel, and perhaps the stronger our beliefs become.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2513796/How-Grand-Canyon-makes-religious-Natural-wonders-increase-tendency-believe-God-supernatural.html#ixzz2lrciGmI4
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Children ‘face distorted view of religion’

  • Friday, November 22

Primary school children should be taught to discuss their views on topics such as whether God is real and the origins of the universe, the report says
Anita Stizzoli/Getty Images
  • Milky Way
    Primary school children should be taught to discuss their views on topics such as whether God is real and the origins of the universe, the report says Anita Stizzoli/Getty Images
Ruth Gledhill Religion Correspondent
Published at 12:01AM, October 23 2013

A generation of children is at risk of growing up with a “superficial and distorted” understanding of religion, a report warns today.

Religious education is in “crisis”, it says, calling for children to start learning about beliefs and visiting places of worship such as churches, mosques and synagogues from the age of four.

The review, launched today at the House of Commons, says that primary school children should be taught to discuss their views on topics such as whether God is real and the origins of the universe.

Published by the Religious Education Council for England and Wales, it says that between the ages of five and seven, RE lessons should include topics such as learning about festivals, including Easter and Diwali, religious symbols and actions and the meanings of religious stories.

Between seven and 11, children could be taught how to discuss and present views on challenging questions surrounding different faiths.

In secondary school, they should “extend and deepen their knowledge and understanding of a range of religions and world views”.

According to the report, most current GCSE teaching fails the core aim of enabling pupils “to adopt an enquiring, critical and reflective approach to the study of religion”.

RE is the only subject where teachers do not have to be specially trained, meaning PE or other teachers often double up as RE teachers without any expert knowledge, said Dr Jonathan Romain, Rabbi of Maidenhead synagogue and chairman of the Accord coalition, which campaigns for inclusive education.

Dr Romain said the report did not go far enough. “It is vitally important that all children understand all the major faiths today,” he said.

“It is a statutory subject which means it has to be taught but it is part of the core and not national curriculum which means there are guidelines only to content. Basically schools can teach whatever they want.”

He added: “It is enormously worrying because children are leaving school without understanding the heritage of this country which is founded on Christian values. They are missing out on an historical understanding of what being British means.

“Knowing about religion is as important as knowing about mountains and rivers.”

The report calls for better monitoring of RE. Arguing for a review of the subject’s present status, set in 1944, when religious education was defined as “religious instruction”, it says: “School structures and curricula, and religion and society have changed greatly, and a new basis for the provision of RE in the 21st century should be considered.” It also says teacher training in the subject needs improving.

“The number of RE trainees has plummeted in recent years, and bursaries have been removed; access to continuing professional development is now minimal. Without a trained and confident teaching force, no long-term improvement in RE is possible.”

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, says in the foreword: “The modern world needs young people who are sufficiently confident in their own beliefs and values that they can respect the religious and cultural differences of others, and contribute to a cohesive and compassionate society.”RE’s place on the curriculum will be strong “if its role and importance are communicated effectively and widely understood”. The country needs a “rigorous model” of RE, he says.

In July, Mr Gove admitted that RE has suffered as a result of the Government’s school reforms.