Religion, science and education

Sir, – I feel I must reply to the letter (November 5th) from Mr Patrick Byrne on his experience of religious education. Mr Byrne recounts how he was viciously assaulted by a Christian Brother after a religious doctrine examination in 1965 when he was a Junior Cert level student. Mr Byrne says that, as a result, he cannot share my "enthusiasm for religious education" as expressed in my Irish Times science column of November 1st.

The assault described by Mr Byrne is inexcusable and should have been the subject of criminal charges. Such brutality happened occasionally at the time (it also happened to me) and was perpetrated both by clerical and lay teachers.

My science column of November 1st described a recent Harvard University study of how a religious upbringing and regular prayer/meditation affects adolescents' capacity to cope with life's challenges. Religious upbringing means the practice of religion at home and in church, in addition to religious education at school. This careful study found that regular attendance at religious services and regular prayer/meditation greatly helps adolescents to navigate life's challenges.

I acknowledged in my column that bad things, sexual and physical abuse, can happen in religious institutions that deal with young people. The authors of this Harvard study point out however that, while the overall positive effect of a religious upbringing in no way excuses clerical sexual/physical abuse, these abuses do not nullify the positive effects of religion demonstrated in their research. – Yours, etc,



Emeritus Professor,

School of Biochemistry

and Cell Biology,