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Atheist Perspective: My Own Personal View Will Remain Absent

About three hours ago I was asked to teach a course in Bio-Ethics at my University. I’ve taught the course before, but it’s been awhile and one of the most difficult things about the subject is that the science is always moving forward. I have to crash write the course given that it begins in a little less than two weeks at a school that I have never taught at.

That got me thinking about my personal policy regarding the teaching of Philosophy courses. Unlike what certain talking heads want to believe which is a symptom of anti-intellectualism that has always run through American society, I don’t care what the students believe. I am an atheist but in my courses it’s not an issue for a student to argue from a position of religion. For the most part it doesn’t matter. I only have to be careful when teaching philosophy of religion courses because some religious people will seek to hijack the course to make sure that no one is straying from the true path. As an instructor it has never been an issue in my classes, but as a student I’ve seen it happen.

There are some atheists who believe that we should wear our atheism like a Christian wears a gold cross around their neck. They want to advertise it, and like some of the Christians, they want to be challenged on it. I feel that as an instructor this is the worst policy, this is a like a Marxist teaching a political philosophy course, it sets a tone that stifles the free exchange of ideas. There are brave students out there for sure, but like in any given population, the brave ones are the minority. Students who otherwise would speak might not, their papers will not be honest as they will be afraid to contradict the instructor’s position. They may soften their speech, or do a number of other things that mitigate what their view all in the name of their grade, if they perceive the instructor to be the type of person who is vindictive.

For this reason I don’t mention my views to my students regarding anything within the sphere of the course. Given that this is an ethics course with an emphasis on medicine, healthcare, and science; abortion comes up (unless the universe is kind and I run out of time before we get to it). Abortion, to some, is the most important topic that can be discussed, it’s import cannot be denied. It’s the one issue that unified all the different sects of Christianity, and it’s the one that I am utterly sick of talking about in class. I forbid the topic in my Intro to Ethics class because of this and the reason that at the 100 level no one ever brings anything new to the argument. It’s standard boilerplate anti-murder or anti-choice arguments that are neither novel or even well researched.

As an atheist, I can have whatever view on the subject I find most compelling but I never bring it up. It would do absolutely no good. Any sort of posturing merely pollutes the course and is an abuse of the position.

What I do let them know are the rules of argumentation, where the burden of proof lies and that they cannot, without proof, deny established science or facts. There are some who would believe that is me pushing my beliefs, but its reality that I push not a point of view. I don’t care if they believe differently because the Earth is round no matter what they want to think about it, vaccines do not cause autism, and homeopathic remedies are junk. No religion discussion need enter into it.

If they ask, I merely remind them of my policy. It’s the best possible solution, it’s not that I am ashamed to be an atheist, I have no reason to be. It’s that I don’t want that debate where it does not belong.

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