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What would you like to see changed in the education system?

The study of evolution should be general throughout education. You shouldn’t have to get to advanced levels before it becomes a concept with which you are familiar. It’s one of the most accessible and engaging aspects of the history of thought, and should represent the second example of information, once the basic skills of using words and numbers have been established, that is taught to children. Rationalism should be the first.

Doesn’t that make you an extremist?

It makes me a rationalist, as I said earlier. How are children supposed to develop with a sane understanding of the world if they don’t know first how to deal with information, how to weigh probabilities and look for evidence rather than the statements of inculcation? The problem is finding the teachers to do it.

Are you a pessimist as well then?

Much of the behaviour of human beings is instinctively determined, and while that doesn’t mean those factors have to be dominant, we have to work hard to control them. As far as rationalism is concerned, we certainly have a lot of work to do to compensate for the innate desire to believe in what is patently untrue. Things can change, I am convinced, but it is necessary for rationalists to speak out for that to happen.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years’ time, and do you think much will have changed in the dominant philosophy of the day?

I doubt five years is sufficient for very much to change at all as far as global balances of thought are concerned. The gradual reduction in irrationality is a slow and uncertain process that doesn’t always march forwards, and often jumps backwards as soon as emotive events scare it off. One thing I’d like to see, and think is possible, is more influence from rationalists in the media, and it strikes me this means the onus is on each one of us to be more openly critical of what we’re presented with. As far as where I see myself, I’d hope to be doing more of the same, and still enjoying it.  

... An Interview with Alastair Clarke

Conducted by the editor of Dot Net June 2009

© alastairclarke.net 2009

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