Friday, 9 November 2007

Association for Science Education issues statement

A brief extract from here;

When set against this rationale it is clear to us that Intelligent Design has no grounds for sharing a platform as a scientific ‘theory’. It has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations to support it. Furthermore it is not accepted as a competing scientific theory by the international science community nor is it part of the science curriculum. It is not science at all. Intelligent Design belongs to a different domain and should not be presented to learners as a competing or alternative scientific idea. As such, Intelligent Design has no place in the science education of young people in school.
This is the full statement.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Meeting Prof. McIntosh, free speech and the nature of "truth" in science as opposed to "Truth in Science".


Today I used up a precious half day from my meagre annual holiday allowance to go and see Andrew C. McIntosh DSc FIMA CMath FEI CEng DInstP MIGEM FRAeS professor of Thermodynamics and Combustion Theory from Leeds University who was giving a talk called "God is Real. Hasn't science disproved him?" sorry "Him?", at York University Christian Union.

This was the first chance I have ever had to see someone locally espouse creationist views and perhaps even making some scientific claims I could look into.

I would like to be absolutely clear in this piece from the outset and confirm that I don't believe in god. Having said that I do believe that kids in the UK school system should be taught about a range of religions, they play a huge role in the world today after all. I also believe in freedom of speech and so I would defend Prof. McIntosh's rights to hold and espouse his views. Yes I mean it.

If the UK government was ousted by a junta which outlawed all religion and curtailed free speech then I would be a member of the underground resistance, struggling alongside Prof. McIntosh and Prof. Dawkins - yes I have read Dawkins' views on freedom of speech so I am confident this would be the case. If this surprises you then perhaps you have listened to people telling you what Dawkins thinks rather than reading Dawkins for yourself.

However in my dangerous, romantic and entirely theoretical armed struggle, I would perhaps go further than many religious folk in the fight for freedom. After all I include in my definiton of free speech the right to tell jokes and be disrespetful. "Motoons and Islam" and "Jerry Springer Opera and Christianity" are two examples of situations where my stand for free speech would put me in direct opposition to some people of faith.

Anyway, why do have I such an interest in McIntosh as to give up part of my annual leave to go and listen to him?

Well the thing is, I care about my kids education.

Prof. McIntosh is the chap who signed the letter from "Truth In Science" sent to all UK schools and colleges with some extremely professionally produced creationist DVD's. If this material was used in science classes then at best the kids would be confused and waste some time in class working out the logical fallacies and distortions it contained or at worst these would not have been picked up and crucial exam marks would have been lost, perhaps the difference between one grade and the next. His letter did in fact claimed the materials were part of the curriculum and suitable for use in science classes when actually they are neither. The letter also included other distortions of fact. McIntosh is a Director of "Truth in Science".

So, I care about my kid's education and Prof. McIntosh effectively tried to sabotage my sons Biology studies, and this is what got me interested in the whole creationism issue.

I have blogged about this issue often both here and in my personal blog Cogita Tute.

I subscribe to many science based organisations on the web, I am a forum member at Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (although more of a lurker than a poster) and a member of the British Centre for Science Education which is a single issue, voluntary, membership based organisation which has built up quite a comprehensive database of information on this issue and the main creationist proponents and activities here in the UK.

The BCSE site is here.

I was recently asked to join the committee at the BCSE and was very pleased to accept and to do my bit. I try to spread the word about the threat to science teaching as this is quite literally, in the creationists own words, the thin end of the wedge. The infamous "wedge document" was discussed here.

Their ultimate intention is to replace science with religion. This threatens scientific research and ultimately jeopardises the many ways in which the UK benefits from a strong science education system. Benefits ranging from industrial and economic advantage in the world and the rewards that each of us reap in terms of medical care and technological development.

So now the scene is set, you know my motives, and the reasons why I decided to go and see him for myself.

His talk was to a Christian Union group at the University of York, so in my view he can talk about whatever he wants. Of course, this means I can also talk about it here and I can point out for you where he was making statements which were untrue, there were several, so you can see for yourself.

I will try to draw some personal conclusions about why he says what he says and if he actually believes these claims or not, and I will try to comment on the nature of "truth" in science as well as the nature of "Truth in Science".

In this post I will cover both his talk ( I took detailed notes ), and the chat I had with him afterwards which was very nearly, very informative.

Here are my notes on his talk.

- - -

The Talk

There were 41 people in the audience including myself, most were student aged with a couple of older blokes near the front not far from me and one other "slightly more mature than a student" looking chap in the middle of the audience. It turned out at the end that the questions would come from these older folks with just one question from a student.

The lecture hall holds up to about two hundred, but despite this and the small size of the turnout, the student who introduced McIntosh started by saying how good it was to see so many people here today. I wonder how many they usually get?

The talk was then introduced as "About the question of whether or not Christianity and Science can coexist." Strangely enough this wasn't covered.

McIntosh started with a joke about the blackboard being full of polar co-ordinates calculations and that being his home territory in his day job i.e. a Professor of Thermodynamics.

Next he laid out the structure for the talk;

• Science & God
• Science Today
• Interpreting the Evidence
• 4 questions.

Just a quick note about my notes. I made them as he spoke and so they are not always word for word quotes. He would often chat around a sentence and say it again a few different ways, and so in cases like these I will just give you the essence of what he said. If I am quoting him directly I will say so. If I am quoting from one of his slides I will preface the sentence with, you guessed it, "slide";

  • Science must be testable. I am not a biologist, but so must be evolutionary theory[testable].
  • Science can only operate in the physical word but God is essentially non-physical. God is also all powerful and able to interact with the physical world.
  • I believe in the bible, that is the pre-supposition I bring to the evidence. We all have some kind of presupposition and that is mine.
  • It is reasonable to be a scientist and believe in god.
I agree with the first and last points. With regard to the second part of the third point it is worth bearing in mind that science spends an awful lot of time making sure that results are free of bias.
  • Scientific Theory - because it has to be testable and because it only relates to the physical world science has boundaries beyond which no definitive claim can be made.
OK - but that's rather turning things around a little. Science is a way of testing claims. Put it this way - can science prove god does not exist? No. It doesn't claim to either - even Dawkins does not make this claim.

  • Slide; "In the study of origins, it is not the realm of science to discount the possibility of the Outsider revealing himself"
  • I don't see enough humility in science today.

Well actually, science can include or exclude anything it likes that makes claims on the physical word, it can do this because it just follows the evidence wherever it may lead. Lets hope we see some today.

He will return to this theme later on. I think this may give us some clues about a possible future tactic for the creationists, i.e. "our explanation also explains the evidence therefore it should be taught in science classes". I will return to this later.

We then had some Venn diagrams with the "whole of creation" equalling the "physical world" in science today and then his suggestion that the physical world should just be a subset of the "whole of creation".
  • Slide; "Science today is built on atheistic humanism - it is this underlying philosophy which will attempt to evade God"
  • Today I strongly contest the claim that science makes which is there is no design in the universe at the very beginning.
He should try claiming that to the many scientists who are people of faith and see what reaction he gets. There are several in the BCSE for instance, or alternatively he should try telling that to the many moderate people of faith out there who support science as a way of exploring god's universe.

He needs to create this false idea that "science is atheist" because that is how he explains the fact that science rejects his claims. The only alternative for him would be to admit that science rejects his claims because they are nonsense.

Next he turned to the "evidence" bit of his talk.
  • Really this is all about the Theory of Evolution. I contend that all living organisms descend from basic kinds which were created a few thousand years ago with all the genetic information for all the variations seen in the past and today.
The "kinds" bit is straight out of genesis.

Next he surprised me by plugging a selection of creationist books including Genesis of Today, Hallmarks of Design and Darwins Black Box rather than talking about any evidence.
  • I want to clarify that when I talk about the evidence against evolution I mean macro evolution and not variations within a kind.
  • This is Young Earth Creationism. I lean towards it and I am open about that.
  • Slide; "Creationism is open to the Outsider" but "Evolution means that man decides the rules"
So he wants the "rules" to be set by his interpretation of the bible instead of by society. Very clear, but not a lot to do with evolution which he just said this was all about.
  • Slide; "Creationism = In the beginning . . ." but "Evolution means that everything happened by chance"
  • I want to be fair and explain that that is not strictly what evolutionist claim. Natural selection on random mutations is well understood and accepted.
OK he cedes part of evolution theory and fits it into his "kinds" idea from Genesis. He accepts natural selection but implies it can only work within these "kinds". He gives no reasons or evidence why we might see this is true, other than the fact it is in the bible.
  • Slide; "Molecules to Men"
  • I don't accept this.
No logical reasons or evidence to back this up were given.
  • Ancient quotes about god from Faraday from the nineteenth century.
  • Quote; Chandrawickramasinghe from 1982 on the argument from improbability.
  • Quote; Watson in Nature in 1929.
  • Quote; Phillip Johnson in Darwin on trial in 1991.
Note to self - where is the evidence? Science doesn't work by authority it works by evidence. Some of Einstein's ideas are rejected by science because they don't fit the evidence. He is just listing authority figures, and they are not even all scientist authority figures, Phillip Johnson is a Lawyer.
  • He next claims that the ID proponents were not claiming that just because something looks design it was.
Excuse me - that is exactly what they were arguing. Later on in this very lecture he will do precisely this himself.
  • But it is wrong to dismiss that things could have been designed.
Well that depends - science can quite easily dismiss that if you have no evidence, in fact that is what science does - dismiss things that have no evidence to support them. Where is the evidence. Science dismissed Astrology as an alternative explanation of psychology, flat earth geology and feng shui. These all claim to be alternative explanations that explain the phenomenon we see around us but they are rejected because they have no supporting evidence. Exactly the same rules apply to his claims of design - show us your evidence. Another point that rather undermines this whole question anyway is the fact that the Theory of Evolution produces design, so he needs to show a difference between "god design" and "the Theory of Evolution design" as well as the evidence to support this claim.

He next got slightly confused ( and I was able to clarify this for him later ) and claimed that it was the EU who had passed a resolution "to not allow it [creationism] to be discussed". ( actually it was the Council of Europe )

This is not true. Government guidelines tell teachers not to teach it and give them guidelines on how to discuss it if it crops up. It is part of the national Curriculum for RE. I challenged him about this after the talk.
  • Slide; Picture of Mount Rushmore - and the argument from design i.e. it looks designed so it is.
  • Codes and order come from intelligence.
This is his key claim and he gave no evidence to back it up other than a picture of Mount Rushmore. Just assertions. Nothing else. Despite the fact he claimed not five minutes before that ID proponents don't do this.

Next comes one of the more extreme claims from his whole speech;
  • It is people on the creationist side of the debate who want to look at the whole evidence, it is others who do not.
Still no evidence yet.
  • I am not afraid of natural selection - you can change a breed by artificial selection as well but you will never get a Great Dane from a Pekinese.
No reasons were given for this limit on evolution. Just more assertions.
  • We won't have time to cover this in detail but I would just say from my own discipline; "Thermodynamically you can't make new machines that are not there already. It is impossible."
No reasons given. No supporting evidence. He did refer to his clash with Dawkins on NI radio several months ago where Dawkins called him to account for this.
  • Next we will turn to the evidence. Now there are evolutionary explanations for this but I want you to be exposed to the evidence.
  • Birds have a different muscle system for operating their wings. They have a pulley system which allows two muscles to be used to lift their humerus bones.
No other comment or claim that it could not have evolved. How exactly is this evidence?
  • Birds Breathing; we have a end flow mass exchange system whereas the birds have a contra-flow mass exchange system where the air never stops.
Now here he did specifically claim that birds lungs are not evolvable. He said this was because any system part way between the two would stop the bird from breathing. At last a clear evidential claim in support of his case. This is also a new claim to me, I look forward to delving into this to see what I can learn.

But only a few minutes on the net reveal several published papers about this and even a layman's explanation of how this could happen. Can McIntosh really not know about any of this? Is he truly ignorant of such simple answers to his claims to "impossible"? Or does he know? He offered me his card afterwards and so I will write and ask him about this.

My brief research turned up this answer to his claims that birds lungs can't possibly evolve; it is a possible evolutionary pathway:
  • Initially birds evolve to breathe by expanding/contracting the air sacs rather than the lungs: this is beneficial because it frees the cycle of breathing from the beat pattern of the winds.
  • Valves evolve at the front of the lung allowing air out but not in, meaning that air now follows a more circular path with less mixing with used air. This is directly beneficial in terms of oxygen requirements.
  • More valves evolve at the back of the lung to keep the air more efficently in the lungs during their contraction phase.
  • This system resembles the modern one, we have respiration drawing air into the posterior air sacs and then pushing them through the lungs. However the air is not yet being cleared from the lungs so some efficency is lost in mixing.
  • The development of anterior air sacs helps by pulling the used air out as the fresh air comes in, their placement naturally allows the used air to be blown out through the forward valve as the sacs contract but mixing will still occur as some will go back the way it came albeit at a reduced level
  • We're now almost there; the final stage is to add more valves to the system to prevent the re-entry of used air into the posterior sacs from the lung and the re-entry of used air from the anterior sacs to the lung. Both these adaptations have immediate benefits in terms of reducing mixing. And the system now naturally switches to the two-stage, unidirectional breathing pattern of modern birds.
This is of course pure speculation, but so is his claim that bird lungs can't evolve. I can't believe he is not even aware of the explanations and he does not mention that the Theory of Evolution has an explanation, he just states that it is impossible.
  • Next up trilobite fossils. Supposedly 4-500 million years old. Eyes are made of calcite.
  • In the Cambrian these creatures suddenly evolved.
  • The eyes produce double images unless they are curved at a particular angle to correct this.
  • Can you believe that they have exactly that shape?
Well yes that's what the Theory of Evolution would predict as well. No mention of this.
Therefore this is totally consistent with design. I know this is not proof it was designed, but it is consistent with the proposal.
Yes I agree, but as covered elsewhere the problem with this claim is that anything and everything is consistent with an omnipotent God. It can explain everything. It is not testable, and so it is not science.
Slide; The Geological column and the claim that complex compound eyes appeared from nowhere.
About 40 minutes had gone by now and his talk was supposed to last 45 mins with 15mins for questions so I only got a brief glimpse of a slide entitled; The Cell - A Miniature City.
  • Old earth or young earth is not the key point here and we don't have time to cover it, the key point is that the oldest fossils are very complicated.
  • Overall I find that evolution is not the most satisfying argument.
  • People often talk of God of the Gaps arguments but creation is exactly the opposite. The Theory of Evolution is trying to fit into the gaps in our knowledge.
  • The reason that the arguments are raging about evolution is because the science says that evolution is wrong.
Breathtaking unsupported assertion. This ignores huge swathes of evidence which support evolution. Huge swathes of independent evidence all of which support evolution and any one of which might not and would therefore show it to be false. Here are some to start you off if you are interested.
  • DNA - a code in every creature
  • Slide; Purpose . . .action . . .code . . .signal
  • DNA has a million times more information density than a computer
  • If I put a frog or a hippo in a blender could I rebuild it? No!
I think that this is funny. Here he makes a claim that has nothing to do with evolution in the first place. But this isn't the funniest thing. The funniest thing is that most of the audience loved this bit. It's not even wrong enough to count as a proper logical fallacy! It's nothing to do with the Theory of Evolution at all. It's simply a non-sequitur

As the faithful chuckled I took the opportunity to look around the room. I could see the two chaps in front of me shaking their heads and the mature-ish chap in the middle of the crowd was looking a bit red in the face. When the gentle chuckling had subsided McIntosh turned to more philosophical subjects;
  • There are three fundamental quantities in the universe;
  • Matter
  • Energy - the materialist reductionist is at fault for limiting us to just these two
  • Information is the third one.
  • The definition of information eludes their definitions.
My ears perked up here - scientists and mathematicians have been challenging creationists to define information in some sensible way for several years now - perhaps I would get a scoop.

Here you go;
  • Information does not equal matter or energy
No it isn't a definition is it - sorry.

- - -

Next he pulls out the bible.

OK now for the Christian Creationist position.
John 1.1 "In the beginning . . ."

- - -


At the end of the talk he was asked several questions which I will quickly cover off;

11,000 Christian ministers in the US have signed a letter supporting evolution and basically saying that your position is one of "embracing ignorance and passing it on to out kids"?

  • He often hears that people of all kinds of philosophies of life, but the point is that they all exclude design as a possible explanation. Oh and by the way the ID folks do good science.
Next was a query asking for clarification about his previous claims about the second Law of Thermodynamics.
  • Information is always linked to machinery and no new information is ever created by evolution. No experiment has ever shown this at all.
This is just nonsense.

Next was a comment that Dembski had admitted an ulterior motive for wanting to push his arguments. In this religious context how do you distinguish one god from another or even from an alien designer?
  • That's another debate altogether - waves bible about.
  • It all comes from this - waves bible about.
  • I believe that people have an innate tendency to do wrong. Only Jesus can save.
Next was Dawkins own ultimate 747 argument - how much more unlikely is a god to arise from nothing.
  • Different rules apply to god. No scientific explanation is required for Him.
No explanation was given as to why this might be so.

- - -


After the talk I approached him and said hello. I asked him what the future plans were for Truth in Science. He said they had plenty of plans but after the furore with the DVD's he couldn't say anything, even to a supporter like me.

I hastily explained that I was not a supporter of his ideas or the actions of TiS.

I pointed out to him that it was the Council of Europe and not the European union he had presumably meant to refer to earlier. He didn't say "oh yes", or "thanks". He just claimed that he had meant them and had in fact actually said them anyway.

I pointed out that no one has banned free speech as he had suggested but that the subject had been ruled out of the science curriculum and guidance notes to discuss creationism, if it should crop up, had been issued. He denied saying that.

I quoted from my notes and even showed them to him. No that isn't what he said. By this time about 6 of his "followers" had gathered around and where all watching the exchange so I turned to them and asked if anyone was doing biology, genetics or any of the life sciences? No.

I asked if they had heard of endogenous retroviruses. Blank looks - no.

I asked him why all the trilobites where low down in the geological column. He said he didn't know.

He claimed that science has no idea how a fish fossilises becasue a dead fish floats you see.

This just took my breath away. We were now joined by about six student supporters of his who were hanging on his every word and laughed at my stupidity at not knowing that dead fish float. You see the only way a fish could possibly have fossilised was if it was killed during Noah's flood, he explained.

Of the dozens of possible holes in this assertion I could of course only reply with one so I went with this;

"Why can't they be fossilised from non-noah floods then?" I asked.

He never answered but said that this question showed that I now accepted that it must take a cataclysm to form fossils.

His audience sniggered.

I tried a couple more times to explain that even if we accept his premise that only floods fossilise fish (which I don't) that even then this doesn't support his conclusion i.e. that it was Noah's flood that created all the fish fossils.

Eventually I just gave up.

Again a few minutes on the web can suggest the following papers which demonstrate how fish are fossilised and why this is not "catastrophe dependent".
  • Briggs, D. E. G. (1995): Experimental Taphonomy. Palaios. vol. 10, pp. 539-550.
  • Briggs, D. E. K. and Crowther, P. R. (1993): Paleobiology: A Synthesis. Oxford Blackwell Scientific Publications, New York.
  • Briggs D. E. G. and Kear, A. J. (1993): Fossilization of Soft Tissue in the Laboratory. Science vol. 259, pp. 1439-1442
  • Briggs D. E .G., Keara, J. A., Martill, D. M., and Wilby, P. R. (1993): Phosphatization of soft-tissue in experiments and fossils. Journal of Geological Society vol. 150, pp. 1035-1038.
  • Dunn, K. A., et al. (1997): Enhancement of Leaf Fossilization Potential by Bacterial Biofilms. Geology, vol. 25, no. 12, pp. 119-1222.
  • Holiday, V. T. (1997) Paleoindian Geoarchaeology of the Southern High Plains. University of Texas Press, Austin. Texas.
  • Maisey, John G. (1991) Fossil forensics. In J. G. Maisey, ed., Santana fossils; an illustrated atlas. T.F.H. Publ.. Neptune City, New Jersey.
  • Seilacher, A., W.-E. Reif, F. Westphal (1985) Sedimentological, ecological and temporal patterns of fossil Lagerstatten. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, vol. B311, pp. 5-24.
  • Trewin, N. H., and Davidson, R. G. (1995) An Early Devonian lake and its associated biota in the Midland Valley of Scotland. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences. vol. 86, Part 4, pp. 233-246.
  • Weeks, L. G. (1953) Environment and Mode of Origin and Facies Relationships of Carbonate Concretions in Shales. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 162-173.
  • Weigelt J. (1989) Recent Vertebrate Carcasses and Their Paleobiological Implications. University of Chicago Press. Chicago, Illinois.
  • Wilby, P. R., et al. (1996) "Role of Microbial Mats in the Fossilization of Soft Tissues." Geology, vol. 24, pp. 787-790.
Anyway, by this time he had given me a card and asked me for my email address - so I gave it to him.

Round about now a young chap chimed in with the claim that carbon dating is all wrong and that a tree fossilised through layers millions of years apart proved this. McIntosh himself corrected the chap that Carbon dating is only good for much shorter time periods anyway, before I could do this myself.

I asked where and when this tree was found - he didn't know.

McIntosh asked what I did for a living. I replied that I worked in a Bank and confirmed that I was just a curious member of the public when it came to science.

I asked if anyone wanted to continue this debate over the net and to swap email addresses?

Before anyone could answer he asked me who I was representing - I said myself.

He asked if I was a member of any group or organisation so I said yes the BCSE - a mirror of the NCSE in the US.

He went quiet for a moment so I again asked if anyone wanted to swap email addresses again.

He interrupted me to say that my attendance at his talk was unfair and dishonest and I should have declared myself at the outset. I pointed out it was a public talk and he had made no such request for declarations.

He said it was not right to demand people's email addresses and to write to him instead. He asked me to commit to reading John and I agreed.

I left.

- - -


McIntosh mapped out his position quite clearly;
Everything in the bible is true.

The earth is only a few thousand years old with everything created in the seven days of genesis. Noah's flood etc. all happened.
He gave no evidence which either was not explained by the Theory of Evolution or which could not be explained by it.

ID seems to be dead - not a bacterial flagellum in sight.

His case seems to be that because the god did it argument can explain everything it therefore has equal right to be in science classes.

This is despite his own inclusion of testability in the definition of science. Of course this is something which the "god did it" idea fails miserably at.

- - -

Personal conclusions

His presentation was far too long for the time he gave himself and he ended up skipping about and only asked us one of the four questions he said he would leave us with at the end.

He tells a lot of fibs. He seems used to doing this to audiences who know no better. He is not daft and can twist and turn an argument - an awful lot - look at his claims about fossil fish and how he turned a question from me into a point for him.

His claims about Noah's Flood being the only thing which could possibly create fish fossils and the fact that birds lungs could not possibly have evolved are two examples of his fibs. The thing is that I find it hard to believe he does not know the answers are actually out there.

I found answers to both these points with very little effort.

Whilst only he really knows his own motives, on balance I think he is lying, and not simply ignorant of the truth. I think that he thinks he is doing it in the service of god.

Make your own mind up but I wouldn't trust him as far as I can throw him.

His faithful are not interested in learning or debate - they just know they are right - and are happy in their ignorance as evidenced by big cheesy smiles all round.

His arguments about dead fish floating, and frogs in a blender are laughable until you realise they are swallowed hook, line and sinker by believers.

I think I gathered some clues which might show where creationism is going next in its quest to infiltrate our science classes. A few times during his talk he repeated his comment that the creationist explanation i.e. "god did it" explains all the evidence just like the Theory of Evolution does and so deserves to be taught along side it in science classes.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Council of Europe firmly opposes creationism in school

Council of Europe firmly opposes creationism in school

By Gilbert Reilhac

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - Europe's main human rights body voted on Thursday to urge schools across the continent to firmly oppose the teaching of creationist and "intelligent design" views in their science classes.
The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly approved a resolution saying attacks on the theory of evolution were rooted "in forms of religious extremism" and amounted to a dangerous assault on science and human rights.
The text said European schools should "resist presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion." It said the "intelligent design" view defended by some United States conservatives was an updated version of creationism.
Creationism says God made the world in six days as depicted in the Bible. Intelligent design argues some life forms are too complex to have evolved according to Charles Darwin's theory and needed an unnamed higher intelligence to develop as they have.
Anne Brasseur, an Assembly member from Luxembourg who updated an earlier draft resolution, said the report showed how creationists -- most recently a shadowy Turkish Muslim writer Harun Yahya -- were trying to infiltrate European schools.
"The purpose of this report is to warn against the attempt to pass off a belief -- creationism -- as a science and to teach the theses of this belief in science classes," she said. "Its purpose is not to fight any belief."
The vote was due in June but was postponed because some members felt the original text amounted to an attack on religious belief. A few changes were made to spell out that it was not directed against religion.
The Council, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, oversees human rights standards in member states and enforces decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.
The resolution, which passed 48 votes to 25 with 3 abstentions, is not binding on the Council's 47 member states but reflects widespread opposition among politicians to teaching creationism in science class.
Some conservatives in the United States, both religious and secular, have long opposed the teaching of evolution in public schools but U.S. courts have regularly barred them from teaching what they describe as religious views of creation.
Pressure to teach creationism is weaker in Europe, but has been mounting. An Assembly committee took up the issue because Harun Yahya has been sending his lavish Islamic creationist book "Atlas of Creation" to schools in several countries.
Supporters of intelligent design want it taught in science class alongside evolution. A U.S. court ruled this out in a landmark decision in 2005, dismissing it as "neo-creationism."

From the NCSE

Council of Europe approves resolution against creationism
On October 4, 2007, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly approved a resolution urging its member governments to oppose the teaching of creationism as science. The resolution, entitled "The dangers of creationism in education," states, "Today creationist ideas are tending to find their way into Europe and their spread is affecting quite a few Council of Europe member states," observing, "The prime target of present-day creationists, most of whom are Christian or Muslim, is education. Creationists are bent on ensuring that their ideas are included in the school science syllabus. Creationism cannot, however, lay claim to being a scientific discipline." Included is "intelligent design," which is described as "the latest, more refined version of creationism" and "presented in a more subtle way."
The resolution recognizes the importance of evolutionary theory in the modern world -- "Denying it could have serious consequences for the development of our societies. Advances in medical research with the aim of effectively combating infectious diseases such as AIDS are impossible if every principle of evolution is denied. One cannot be fully aware of the risks involved in the significant decline in biodiversity and climate change if the mechanisms of evolution are not understood" -- and accordingly concludes, "The teaching of all phenomena concerning evolution as a fundamental scientific t is therefore crucial to the future of our societies and our democracies. For that reason it must occupy a central position in the curriculum, and especially in the science syllabus, as long as, like any other theory, it is able to stand up to thorough scientific scrutiny."

More from the NCSE.

Press Conference Video

Voting result

Transcripts of proceedings

Adopted Resolution

Monday, 1 October 2007

More reaction to new teacher guidelines

From the Telegraph;

Creationism can be a topic in class

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor

Teachers have been given permission to discuss the controversial theory of creationism in science lessons.

Have your say: Is it right to teach creationism in schools?

Teachers will be expected to contrast creationism with Darwin's theory of evolution
Pupils should be able to ask questions about the theory provided teachers emphasise it has "no underpinning scientific principles", new Government guidance says.

If the subject is raised teachers will be expected to contrast the strict Biblical belief that the Earth was created by God in six days between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Teachers are told to respond "positively and educationally" to such questions and be "respectful of students' views, religious or otherwise".

But the document – drawn up to clarify the rules after Christian academics challenged the teaching of Darwinism in GCSE biology – makes it clear that such beliefs are not "scientifically testable" and are not valid scientific theories.

It is hoped the guidance will help avoid the situation in the United States where some schools – under pressure from the religious Right – have compelled science teachers to introduce lessons in intelligent design, a creationist off-shoot.

The guidance says schools must teach the broad outlines of evolutionary theory to pupils aged five to 14, and focus clearly on the "nature of, and evidence for, evolution" at GCSE and A-level.

Questions about creationism should provide an "opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories".

From the Mail;

Christian campaigners force new guidelines over creationism

Ministers have been forced to issue guidelines on how to teach Creationism in science classes after pressure from Christian campaigners.

Teachers are allowed to answer questions on the subject but must make clear it has 'no underpinning scientific principles', new government advice states.

The move is in response to a campaign by Christian group 'Truth in Science' which last summer sent every school DVDs promoting intelligent design (ID), a Creationism offshoot, in a bid to get it taught.

It is also intended to avoid the situation in the United States where teachers under pressure from the religious Right have forced science teachers to begin lessons in ID.

Creationism, the Biblical theory that The Earth was created by God in six days, has been controversial in recent years.

Three City Academies run by Christian car dealer Sir Peter Vardy have been criticised for featuring Creationist theories in lessons.

Pupils taking Biology GCSE with exam board OCR this year became the first students in mainstream education to answer questions on the theory in a science exam.

This prompted The Royal Society to issue an open letter stating Creationism had no place in schools and that pupils should be clear science backs the theory of evolution.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has in the past said he is not comfortable with it being taught to pupils.

The new guidance says teachers should respond 'positively and educationally' to questions about Creationism and be 'respectful of students' views, religious or otherwise'.

But it also makes clear makes clear such beliefs are not valid scientific theories and not 'scientifically testable'.

Teachers should instill in pupils aged five to 14 the outlines of evolutionary theory and focus on the 'nature and evidence for evolution' at GCSE and A-level.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said: "The guidelines were issued in response to materials distributed last year on teaching Creationism in schools by religious groups.

"It is the first time there has been guidance on this matter."

Friday, 28 September 2007

More reaction to new teacher guidelines

From James Randerson at The Guardian;

The UK government has issued new guidelines to teachers on what to teach about creationism and intelligent design in science classes. They are pretty explicit that creationism and ID do not belong.

The move seems to be a response to efforts by the ironically named campaign group "Truth in Science". Last year it sent DVDs promoting ID to every school in the land in the hope that they would be used to teach the creationist idea alongisde evolution in science lessons.

The new guidelines could not be clearer:

Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science.

That doesn't mean it cannot be mentioned of course, but the guidelines state that it should only feature as part of discussions about what does and does not make a scientific theory.

The use of the word 'theory' can mislead those not familiar with science as a subject discipline because it is different from the everyday meaning of being little more than a 'hunch'. In science the meaning is much less tentative and indicates that there is a substantial amount of supporting evidence, underpinned by principles and explanations accepted by the international scientific community...Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole.

There are even specific guidelines about using materials from groups like TIS:

While these resources may be used, it must be remembered that they do not support the science National Curriculum and they present a particular minority viewpoint that is not underpinned by scientific principles and evidence.

For more on TIS check out the British Centre for Science Education.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Reactions to new teachers guidelines

From the NCSE.
From Ekklesia and again.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

European Creationism Vote back on the Agenda

From here my emphasis in bold;

Council of Europe to vote on creationism in schools

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - Europe's main human rights body will vote next week on a resolution opposing the teaching of creationist and intelligent design views in school science classes.

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will debate a resolution saying attacks on the theory of evolution were rooted "in forms of religious extremism" and amounted to a dangerous assault on science and human rights.

The resolution, on the agenda for October 4, says European schools should "resist presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion." It describes the "intelligent design" argument as an updated version of creationism.

Anne Brasseur, an Assembly member from Luxembourg who updated an earlier draft resolution, said the vote was due in June but was postponed because some members felt the original text amounted to an attack on religious belief.

Only minor changes have been made to the initial draft.

"There are different views of the creation of the world and we respect that," she told Reuters. "The message we wanted to send was to avoid creationism passing itself off as science and being taught as science. That's where the danger lies."

The Council, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, oversees human rights standards in member states and enforces decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

If passed, the resolution would not be binding on its 47 member states but would reflect widespread opposition among politicians to teaching creationism in science class.


Creationism says God made the world in six days as depicted in the Bible. Intelligent design argues some life forms are too complex to have evolved according to Charles Darwin's theory and needed an unnamed higher intelligence to develop as they have.

Some conservatives in the United States, both religious and secular, have long opposed the teaching of evolution in public schools but U.S. courts have regularly barred them from teaching what they describe as religious views of creation.

Pressure to teach creationism is weaker in Europe, but has been mounting. An Assembly committee took up the issue because a shadowy Turkish Muslim publishing group has been sending an Islamic creationist book to schools in several countries.

Supporters of intelligent design want it taught in science class alongside evolution. A U.S. court ruled this out in a landmark decision in 2005, dismissing it as "neo-creationism."

"The aim of this report is not to question or to fight a belief," Brasseur wrote in a memorandum added to the new resolution. "It is not a matter of opposing belief and science, but it is necessary to prevent belief from opposing science."

She said the resolution also shortened references in the resolution to "evolution by natural selection" to "evolution" because some members had misunderstood the reference to natural selection to be an attack on their religious beliefs.

Friday, 21 September 2007

New government guidelines for teachers confirm that the TIS material should not be used in science classes

New government guidelines confirm that TiS claims about the curriculum are false (again).

There has been much debate recently about the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in the science curriculum. The 'Truth in Science' pack, which had been sent to all secondary schools, also generated media interest.

Intelligent Design is a creationist belief that suggests that the biological complexity of human beings is evidence for presence of a God or an 'intelligent designer'. It is sometimes erroneously advanced as scientific theory but has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and it is not accepted by the international scientific community.

Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the National Curriculum for science, but there is scope for schools to discuss creationism as part of Religious Education - a component of the basic school curriculum - in developing pupils' knowledge and understanding of Christianity and other religions. This guidance is designed to clarify the place of these concepts within the National Curriculum.

- - -


The National Curriculum

The National Curriculum secures for all pupils, irrespective of background and ability, an entitlement to a range of areas of learning. Its aim is to develop knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes necessary for each pupil's self-fulfilment and development as an active and responsible citizen. It makes expectations for learning and attainment explicit to pupils, parents, teachers, governors, employers and the public, and establishes national standards for the performance of all pupils.

The National Curriculum provides the framework of what should be taught in a particular subject. It does not state how subjects should be taught and schools are free to add additional material to it when developing their school curriculum (for example some schools choose to teach Astronomy at GCSE in addition to other science GCSEs).

Science in the curriculum

Science is a core subject of the National Curriculum throughout every key stage.

The science programmes of study set out the legal requirements of the science National Curriculum. They focus on the nature of science as a subject discipline, including what constitutes scientific evidence and how this is established. Students learn about scientific theories as established bodies of scientific knowledge with extensive supporting evidence. Hypotheses are developed on the basis of the body of knowledge and are tested experimentally to generate further evidence that may be supportive or contradictory. Experimental work can then be used to generate further evidence in order to test new hypotheses based on these bodies of scientific knowledge. The role of the scientific community in evaluating and validating new work is also included as is the nature of, and evidence for, evolution.

Religious Education in the curriculum

Religious Education (RE) is a component of the basic curriculum, to be taught alongside the National Curriculum in all maintained schools.

There is scope for young people to discuss beliefs about the origins of the Earth and living things in RE. The DfES and QCA have published a non-statutory national framework for RE and supporting teaching units which include the unit ‘How can we answer questions about creation and origins?’ The unit focuses on creation and the origins of the universe and human life, as well as the relationships between religion and science. Students have opportunities within RE lessons to discuss, explore, question and evaluate these relationships. The unit can be downloaded from HYPERLINK ""

Scientific theories

The use of the word ‘theory’ can mislead those not familiar with science as a subject discipline because it is different from the everyday meaning of being little more than a ‘hunch’. In science the meaning is much less tentative and indicates that there is a substantial amount of supporting evidence, underpinned by principles and explanations accepted by the international scientific community. However, it also signals that all scientific knowledge is considered to be provisional as it can be overturned by new evidence if this is validated and accepted by the scientific community.

Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole. Creationism and intelligent design therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study.

What is appropriate to teach in science lessons?

The nature of, and evidence for, evolution must be taught at key stage 4 as these are part of the programme of study for science. Key stages 1, 2 and 3 include topics such as variation, classification and inheritance which lay the foundations for developing an understanding of evolution at key stage 4 and post-16.

The nature of science as a subject discipline must also be taught, as described in Sc1 Scientific enquiry at key stages 1 and 2 and how science works at key stages 3 and 4.

Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science. However, there is a real difference between teaching ‘x’ and teaching about ‘x’. Any questions about creationism and intelligent design which arise in science lessons, for example as a result of media coverage, could provide the opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories and, in the right context, why evolution is considered to be a scientific theory.

Addressing students’ questions about creationism or intelligent design

Science teachers can respond positively and educationally to questions and comments about creationism or intelligent design by questioning, using prompts such as ‘What makes a theory scientific?’, and by promoting knowledge and understanding of the scientific consensus around the theories of evolution and the Big Bang.

Choosing appropriate resources

The DCSF does not specify teaching resources. There is a wide variety of resources available for use in schools and teachers are free to use their professional judgement to select appropriate materials for their science lessons.

Any resource should be checked carefully before it is used in the classroom. If resources which mention creationism or intelligent design are used, it must be made clear that neither constitutes a scientific theory.


Is creationism a valid scientific theory?

‘Creationism’, a term commonly used as a shorthand for ‘young-Earth creationism’, is the belief that the Earth and its many species did not gradually come into being over billions of years but were created suddenly and within the last 10,000 years. This proposed timescale can be investigated scientifically with the scientific evidence indicating a much older Earth (between 4,000 and 5,000 million years). The existence of a ‘creator’ is not scientifically testable.

Is a belief in creation the same thing as ‘creationism’?

Belief that God created everything that exists is shared by Christians, Jews, Muslims and many others all over the world. Many of the founders of modern science, as well as contemporary scientists, have held and do hold this belief, one ‘that science cannot address’ since it is religious/metaphysical. In view of this, in the interest of good science education, it is important that science teachers do not assert or imply that science contradicts traditional beliefs in creation and design. To the belief in creation, creationists have added the belief that the Earth is geologically young, although this is not supported by mainstream science.

Is intelligent design a valid scientific theory?

The intelligent design movement claims there are aspects of the natural world that are so intricate and fit for purpose that they cannot have evolved but must have been created by an ‘intelligent designer’. Furthermore they assert that this claim is scientifically testable and should therefore be taught in science lessons. Intelligent design lies wholly outside of science. Sometimes examples are quoted that are said to require an ‘intelligent designer’. However, many of these have subsequently been shown to have a scientific explanation, for example, the immune system and blood clotting mechanisms.

Attempts to establish an idea of the ‘specified complexity’ needed for intelligent design are surrounded by complex mathematics. Despite this, the idea seems to be essentially a modern version of the old idea of the “God-of-the-gaps”. Lack of a satisfactory scientific explanation of some phenomena (a ‘gap’ in scientific knowledge) is claimed to be evidence of an intelligent designer.

Should time be given to creationism and intelligent design in science lessons?

The theory of evolution lies at the heart of biology and should be taught at key stage 4 and in GCE advanced level biology. Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories and do not form part of the science National Curriculum or the GCSE and GCE A level subject criteria. There may be situations in which it is appropriate for science teachers to respond to student comments or enquiries about the claims of creationism or intelligent design. This would be to establish why they are not considered as scientific theories as described above in ‘What is appropriate to teach in science lessons’. One way to do this would be to consider the mechanisms by which new scientific knowledge becomes established and why creationism and intelligent design do not meet these requirements.

If questions or issues about creationism and intelligent design arise during science lessons they can be used to illustrate a number of aspects of how science works. Such aspects include: ‘how interpretation of data, using creative thought, provides evidence to test ideas and develop theories’; ‘that there are some questions that science cannot currently answer, and some that science cannot address’; ‘how uncertainties in scientific knowledge and scientific ideas change over time and about the role of the scientific community in validating these changes’.

Which subject should deal with creationism and intelligent design?

Teachers of subjects such as RE, history or citizenship may deal with creationism and intelligent design in their lessons. If such issues were to arise there might be value in science colleagues working with these teachers in addressing them.

Should I use resources about creationism and intelligent design that are sent to my school?

Decisions about which resources to use rest with schools and teachers. Organisations promoting creationism and intelligent design quite often provide resources for schools; these may include paper-based activities, leaflets, DVDs, CDs, music, workshops, other activities and web resources. While these resources may be used, it must be remembered that they do not support the science National Curriculum and they present a particular minority viewpoint that is not underpinned by scientific principles and evidence.

What about students who hold creationist beliefs or believe in the arguments of intelligent design?

Some students do hold creationist beliefs or believe in the arguments of the intelligent design movement and/or have parents/carers who accept such views. If either is brought up in a science lesson it should be handled in a way that is respectful of students’ views, religious and otherwise, whilst clearly giving the message that the theory of evolution and the notion of an old Earth / universe are supported by a mass of evidence and fully accepted by the scientific community.

Creation: theologically, God’s purposeful act of bringing and holding the universe in being. This traditional belief in divine, designed action is shared by Jews, Christians, Muslims and others.

Creationism: a term commonly used as shorthand for its most common variant, ‘young-Earth creationism’. As well as a belief in creation, it includes the additional belief that creation occurred by specific, non-natural divine events in six ‘days’ some 6000-10,000 years ago, rather than by God’s creative actions through the natural processes of stellar, chemical and biological evolution.

Design: purposeful planning behind an object or action.
God-of-the-gaps: the name given to the practice of substituting an explanation of agency [in this case God] into current gaps in our scientific understanding, where what is needed is an explanation of the mechanisms [i.e. a scientific explanation]. It is not part of science teaching - and cannot be philosophically justified - to 'plug God in' to gaps awaiting a scientific explanation. Although the two types of explanation are logically compatible, they are not interchangeable.
Intelligent Design: the belief (held by members of a movement starting in the early 1990s) that certain biological features are too complex to be explained by the theory of evolution and therefore point to ‘intelligence’.
Irreducible complexity: a structure is claimed to be irreducibly complex if it could not have originated by natural processes; this claim is made for any biological system consisting of many interacting parts in which the absence of any one part means that the whole system does not function. Two examples which have been frequently quoted are the mammalian eye and the bacterial flagellum. Plausible mechanisms by which both could have evolved have now been described.

Origins: a word commonly used for the processes by which the universe, life and humankind originated. Such processes as stellar, chemical and biological evolution are the province of science, and need to be distinguished from the theological concept of an act of creation.

Science: the systematic study of the origins, structure and behaviour of the physical/natural world through observation, theorising and experiment.
Scientific theory: a consistent, comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidenced explanation of an aspect of the natural world which can, at least in principle, be tested by observations and/or experiments. Examples are the kinetic theory of gases, continental drift and plate tectonics, biological evolution and quantum theory.
There is a wide range of resources and background material on these topics and those in the list below are good starting points.
Website articles
A page on the website of Christians in Science devoted to sources of information about origins, creation, creationism and intelligent design. It includes a number of links to web pages that are relevant to creationism and ID: HYPERLINK ""
The Interacademy Panel’s statement on the teaching of evolution:
Further articles may be found on the pages of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion:
Non-academic books
Ayala, Francisco J (2006) Darwin and Intelligent Design, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, ISBN 978-0-8006-3802-3.
Poole, M. W. (2007) User’s Guide to Science and Belief, Ch 8-10, Oxford: Lion Hudson, ISBN 978-0-7459-5274-1
Academic books
Jones, L. & Reiss, M. J. (eds) (2007) Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking account of creationism, New York: Peter Lang. Examines the implications of the rise in creationism for school science teaching and presents suggestions for ways forward.
Manson, Neil A (ed) (2003) God and Design: The teleological argument and modern science, London: Routledge. Considers the design argument from historical, philosophical, theological, biological and physical perspectives.

Howard J van Till, ‘Are bacterial flagella intelligently designed?’ Science and Christian Belief (2003) 15(2) 117-140. Dawkins, R. (1996) Climbing Mount Improbable, pp126ff, London: Viking.

From here and here.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Creationism in Norwich?

From here;

The Norwich City Council Scrutiny Committee met on July 31st and came out in opposition to the plans.

Millionaire second hand car dealer turned Pentecostalist preacher Graham Dacre wanted to turn Heartsease School into an Academy. Dacre was formerly involved with Proclaimers International but split away to form his own church, he then linked up with Mount Zion Family Life Centre to establish Norwich Family Life Church.

Pentecostalists are infamous for their ‘prosperity preaching’, the notion that it is harder for a rich man to get to heaven than it is for a camel to get through the eye of a needle somehow doesn’t apply here. Most Pentecostalist preachers openly flaunt their mansions, limousines and expensive life styles – God has chosen to reward them.

The standard Pentecostalist beliefs are that God created the world 6,000 years ago, abortion is ‘evil’ and homosexuality can be ‘cured’. Despite challenging Graham Dacre on the Network Norwich message boards he never did reply…

The bid to turn Heartsease School into an Academy also involved the Church of England Norwich Diocese, but let’s just say there was a certain imbalance in the funding arrangements. Graham Dacre’s Lind Trust was going to invest £1.95 million and the Norwich Diocese just £50,000.

At a well-attended consultation meeting at the school the only speakers in favour of the Academy were… Graham Dacre and the Bishop of Norwich. Parents were particularly concerned that Graham Dacre would have a majority on the new governing body with only one elected parent and local authority representative.

With the Liberals and Green Party opposing the scheme pressure was mounting on the Labour Party. One MP Ian Gibson campaigned against the Academy whereas former Education Secretary Charles Clarke was in favour of handing the school over to the creationists.

The resolution from the Norwich Scrutiny Committee is a fairly good summary of reasons to oppose Academies because

• of the lack of democratic accountability

• the inordinate amount of control that would be given to sponsors in relation to the level of investment.

• although the stated intention is to maintain existing policies and procedures in respect of admissions, curriculum, inclusiveness etc., there can be no guarantee that these will continue in the future.

• of the possible adverse impact on the neighbouring schools [the new Academy would have had 1,000 pupils instead of 400].

• it was not appropriate to consider one school in isolation in the context of education provision for the whole city, particularly in view of its future as a Unitary Authority.

• Heartsease High School is an improving school and there is no reason why, with investment not necessarily at the level in the academy proposal, the school can’t continue that improvement journey.

The vote by the Scrutiny Committee is a significant blow, however, the proposals will now go to the new Children, Schools and Families minister Ed Balls. Central government riding roughshod over local opinion? Don’t worry we’ve seen it all before.

As for wacky religious groups trying to run state schools – there’s more! The Exclusive Brethren who refuse to use any electronic devices (the work of the devil) are preparing an academy bid. I’ll try to keep everyone posted.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Creationism: bad science, bad religion, bad education

From here (by kind permission of the author) a fascinating in depth analysis of the recent history of Creationism and in particular developments in the UK education system up until 2002;

The only people who have a problem with evolution are those fundamentalist Christians who wish to believe that the Bible is, in every detail, the literal and inerrant word of God. 'Darwin's name has become a byword for atheism in fundamentalist circles, yet the Origin was not intended as an attack upon religion, but was a sober, careful exposition of a scientific theory.' Indeed, Darwin himself was 'always respectful of religious faith.' (Armstrong 2000)
And now 'the fundamentalist doctrines that have polluted US education' (Robin McKie and Martin Bright The Observer 17 March 2002) are spreading to Britain. In March 2002 The Guardian reported that Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead had hosted a 'creationist' conference and that senior staff have urged teachers to promote biblical fundamentalism.
The current furore is the result of revelations in The Guardian that Emmanuel is teaching its students creationism alongside evolution. Head Teacher Nigel McQuoid (left) has claimed that he wants his pupils to learn to make up their own minds but several members of his staff have urged teachers to 'show the superiority' of creationist theories. Vice-principal Gary Wiecek has said 'As Christian teachers it is essential that we are able to counter the anti-creationist position.' Maths teacher Paul Yeulett has declared that 'a Christian teacher of biology will not (or should not) regard the theory of evolution as axiomatic, but will oppose it.'

In a lecture at Emmanuel College on 21 September 2000 Head of Science Steven Layfield told teachers 'Those of us engaged in the struggle to show the superiority of a creationist world-view against the prevailing orthodoxy of atheistic materialism and evolutionism in science have been viciously attacked.' Teachers, he said, 'must be prepared to express without compromise the integrity and infallibility of the biblical historical narrative.' In particular, science teachers should 'note every occasion when an evolutionary/old-earth paradigm is explicitly mentioned or implied by a textbook, examination question or visitor and courteously point out the fallibility of the statement. Wherever possible, we must give the alternative - always better - biblical explanation. (The Guardian 9 March 2002)
But Emmanuel College is not the only problem. As the National Secular Society's Keith Porteous Wood pointed out in a letter to The Guardian (11 March), Emmanuel is not the first state school to teach creationism. 'A Seventh Day Adventist School in Tottenham is already part of the maintained sector and taxpayers have been stumping up the cash for it since 1998.' And it probably won't be the last. Creationists are hoping to develop another Christian school at Torfaen in South Wales and have already sought advice from staff at Emmanuel. Baptist minister Revd Richard Harrison, a leading supporter of the project, has said of evolution 'OK, it's a plausible theory, but it's a hoax'. The establishment of the new school is currently in doubt. The Welsh Assembly's Education Minister, Jane Davidson, fears that children might be brainwashed and David Rosser, the Director of CBI Wales, which had agreed to sponsor the school, said 'The CBI wouldn't be involved in anything like that.' (Tania Branigan The Guardian 9 April 2002)

And it's not just schools. A determined campaign is being waged to infiltrate UK universities and colleges. The Australian 'Creation Research' organisation already has a British office and has sent its international director, John Mackay, to take part in debates with academics at meetings held by Christian Unions at several universities. Now, one of its members, fundamentalist Christian John Forbes, is carrying out a survey of staff at British universities to ascertain their views on the origins of life.
'Creation Research' complains that the media and schools have indoctrinated people with evolutionary humanism 'which denies creation, the Bible and Christ.' Its UK website even suggests that belief in evolution is to blame for the attack on the World Trade Centre. 'Believers should not be surprised when things like this happen ... The root cause of this increasing violence is sin - sin which is rooted in the refusal to glorify The Lord as the God who created the universe.' (Tania Branigan The Guardian 25 March 2002) A bizarre interpretation, to say the least, of an attack perpetrated by Paradise-crazed individuals on a country where forty-five per cent of the population believe in the Genesis account of creation.
Bishop of Oxford Dr Richard Harries (right) speaking on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day (15 March 2002) said he was saddened that Christians should oppose evolution, which 'far from undermining faith, deepens it.' He went on 'Historians of science note how quickly the late Victorian Christian public accepted evolution. It is therefore quite extraordinary that 140 years later, after so much evidence has accumulated, that a school in Gateshead is opposing evolutionary theory on alleged biblical grounds. This attempt to see the Book of Genesis as a rival to scientific truth stops people taking the Bible seriously. Biblical literalism brings not only the Bible but Christianity itself into disrepute.'

Episcopal Bishop of Newark John Spong agrees. 'Those who insist on biblical literalism become unwitting accomplices in bringing about the death of the Christianity they so deeply love ... The Bible relates to us the way our ancient forebears understood and interpreted their world, made sense out of life, and thought about God. Our task is the same as theirs. We must interpret our world in the light of our knowledge and suppositions.' (Spong 1991)

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Giving creationists the oxygen of publicity

Guardian 6/8/2006 - from here;

"In a world where any uninformed lunatic - not just journalists - can cast their inexpert ramblings into the blogosphere for anyone to read, scientists increasingly have a problem. Bogus scientific notions that fit with a favoured political credo spread like wildfire and scientists can do little to stem the tide. Climate change, MMR and intelligent design, to take just three examples, are all topics where the sea of falsehood can seem overwhelming.

The stakes are perhaps even higher with Kentucky's new-ish creation museum. In less than 2 months, the place had pulled in over 100,000 visitors, at $19.95 a throw or $1000 for life membership.
I haven't been, but its visitors are paying for a pretty flimsy grasp on reality. The hi-tech anamatronic exhibits, for example, show humans hanging out with dinosaurs.
The US Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology has denounced it as presenting, "visitors with a view of earth history that has been scientifically disproven for over a century." And the National Centre for Science Education (with the backing of over 800 scientists in surrounding states) has warned that, "students who accept this material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level".
. . .

The LA Times was more blunt. Its editorial said:
"With the opening of the Creation Museum, young people will be getting another side of the story. Too bad it starts with 'Yabba-dabba-doo!'"
But here's the dilemma.
Statements of derision may serve little purpose other than to drive more visitors to the attraction and swell the coffers of Answers in Genesis, the loopy organisation that set it up. By trying to set the record straight are we simply playing into their hands? "

Saturday, 4 August 2007

A brief history of Creationism in British Schools

From here;

April 2003: Richard Dawkins attacks plans announced by the Vardy Foundation (on Radio 4’s Today programme on 28/4/03) to open a further six schools teaching a creationist version of the origin of life, in addition to Emmanuel College, Gateshead. Education Guardian

September 2003: King's Academy in Middlesbrough opens its doors. Formed from a partnership between the Department for Education and the Wearside-based Vardy Foundation it is a sister facility to Gateshead's Emmanuel College, which follows a "creationism" curriculum. BBC.

December 2003: The Guardian organises a conference on ‘Creationism: Science versus faith in schools’.


June 2004: British Humanist Association circulate briefing document to MPs and peers on creationist academies

August 2004: President George Bush tells reporters that "both sides ought to be properly taught ... so people can understand what the debate is about." Time.

October 2004: Local campaigners in Conisbrough, near Doncaster, persuade their LEA to reject a proposed takeover of Northcliffe School by the Vardy Foundation (to be later known as the Emmanuel Schools Foundation) – a considerable triumph for local campaigning and democracy. BBC


January 2005: Lord Taverne asks in the House of Lords "whether the national curriculum will exclude the teaching of creationism in schools." Hansard.

February 2005: UK - Newcastle City Council urged to replace West Gate Community College with an Emmanuel School Foundation academy, and that Sunderland City Council was being lobbied to set up a Christian academy. BBC

US - Dover School board, Pennsylvania proposes teaching an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution in class, called Intelligent Design.

August 2005: Guardian/ICM Poll suggests that two thirds of UK oppose state aided faith schools. The Guardian

September 2005: US - Parents of Dover School mount first US legal against the school board’s decision to incorporate Intelligent Design into school science.

UK- Trinity Academy opens in Doncaster replacing Thorne Grammar School. A part funded city academy it is the third school to be operated by the Christian fundamentalist Vardy Foundation (now the Emmanuel School Foundation).

December 20, 2005: Kitzmiller -v- Dover. In one of the biggest courtroom clashes between faith and evolution since the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania public school district Tuesday from teaching “intelligent design” in biology class, saying the concept is creationism in disguise. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones delivered a stinging attack on the Dover Area School Board, saying its first-in-the-nation decision in October 2004 to insert intelligent design into the science curriculum violates the constitutional separation of church and state. The ruling was a major setback to the US intelligent design movement. Trial Transcripts

Judge bans intelligent design from US science lessons. Education Guardian


February 2006: US scientists enlist teachers in battle against creationists Education Guardian

March 2006: Archbishop of Canterbury criticised teaching of creationism saying that the theory ‘is a kind of category mistake’. The Guardian

Consternation as the OCR Examination Board announces the inclusion of creationist theory in their ‘Gateway Science’ specification for biology GCSE due out in September.

April 2006: Leading scientists of the UK’s Royal Society issue statement saying that creationism 'no place in schools.' Royal Society Statement

National Union of Teachers, warn that religious fundamentalists are gaining control of state schools - predominantly through the government's city academy programme. Education Guardian

Australian creationist John Mackay begins UK lecture tour. Observer Guardian

May 2006: Vatican astronomer, Guy J. Consolmagno, denounces creationism as a “kind of paganism.” The Scotsman

August 2006: Fears grow as there are signs that the Pope is considering aligning his church more closely with the theory of "intelligent design" taught in some US schools. The Guardian

September 2006: UK anti-evolutionists, ‘Truth in Science’ seek to lure parents with new website and teachers by sending out creationist material to school science staff. Design Attack on School Science

October 2006: UK publication of hugely influential book ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins and the inauguration of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

November 2006: Tony Blair accused of complacency on classroom creationism as he dismissed concerns about creationism in schools, saying they were often "hugely exaggerated". Ekklesia

Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason will subsidise books, pamphlets and DVDs for teachers to fight what the professor describes as the "educational scandal" that has seen the rise of "irrational ideas". Education Guardian

US - Museum of Creationism opens in Kentucky. The Telegraph

Department for Education and Skills (DfES) rejects creationist infiltration of science teaching by creationist group ‘Truth in Science’. British Humanist Association

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Creationism hits Middlesbrough

This is an edited extract from Francis Beckett’s latest book, The Great City Academy Fraud, published by Continuum with my emphasis in bold, the original extract is published here.

"City Academies are the government’s Big Idea for education. Private sponsors – among them wealthy evangelicals and religious organisations – are being courted to fund and run a new generation of superschools.
But while the sponsor might contribute up to £2 million, their money buys them control over schools whose actual cost is more like £35 million. Sponsors contribute nothing to running costs, yet they manage the school’s resources, choose its teachers, and, crucially, decide its curriculum, in perpetuity. Paying for it, in perpetuity, is the responsibility of the taxpayer.
. . .
Of the 46 academies opened by October 2006, 14 – just under a third of the total – will be entirely in the control of Christian organisations or evangelical Christians. Three others have Christian organisations as one half of the sponsorship team. These organisations will have the power to decide what is taught and how it is taught.
. . .
The two most disturbing school sponsors are the evangelical Christians Sir Peter Vardy and Robert Edmiston.
Sir Peter Vardy, whose wealth comes from Reg Vardy PLC, the second-hand car business he inherited from his father, put up £2 million for each of his three academies, which have cost the taxpayer many times that amount. It is you and I who pay the bills.
These bills include £14,039 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association as reimbursement for time on academy business spent by Sir Peter’s brother David, as well as larger sums to Sir Peter’s own company. None of this work was put out to tender, which is a legal requirement in state schools.
As Gwen Evans, then deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, put it: “Academies were supposed to lever private finance into public education, not lever public money into private pockets.”
Academies are also supposed to replace failing schools, and Sir Peter’s staff have put a lot of effort into proving that the two schools his first academy in Middlesborough replaced were failing. In fact, at least one of them – Coulby Newham School – was flourishing. Its last Ofsted report before it was closed down praised every aspect of the school, including its broad–minded inclusiveness – a quality not in evidence in Vardy schools. His academy did not produce better results with the same pupils, despite expelling 10 times as many pupils as the schools which were closed to make way for it.
There’s no room for objection. Vardy’s foundation controls the schools totally, with an inbuilt majority on the governing bodies.
Sir Peter is a creationist. He believes that the Bible is telling the literal truth when it says that the universe was created by God in six days. “Schools should teach the creation theory as literally depicted in Genesis,” said Nigel McQuoid, who runs Vardy’s Emmanuel Schools Trust.
Mr McQuoid also said: “The Bible says clearly that homosexual activity is against God’s design. I would indicate that to young folk.” Many of us would not wish our children to be taught that, but this does not concern Mr McQuoid, who told a local newspaper: “I don’t have to respect everyone’s opinion. I don’t respect the opinion of people who believe it’s fine to live with a partner. Head teachers are responsible to God and the standards of the bible. Nothing in the school should contradict the teachings of the bible.”
“If academies are to succeed,” says his colleague John Burn, “they need to be led and staffed by people who are obedient to God’s truth as revealed in the scriptures.” So, no teachers who do not hold the approved theological opinions. Burn and Sir Peter form a small committee of two to choose heads for their schools whenever it is necessary. None of that nonsense about letting parents or teachers have a say.
Mr Burn is one of the founders of the Newcastle-based Christian Institute, set up in 1991 to promote fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and is an outspoken opponent of the ordination of women. In September 2000, Stephen Layfield, head of science at one of Vardy’s schools, Emmanuel College, Gateshead, delivered a lecture called “The teaching of science – a biblical perspective”. It reads rather like a revivalist sermon and lays down a duty upon teachers to “do all they can to ensure that pupils, parents and fellow colleagues are reminded frequently that all is not what it seems when popular so-called scientific dogma presents itself before them.” When you find mention of evolution in a textbook, “point out the fallibility of the statement.” There are separate notes for the teachers of each of the sciences. Apparently, if you are a physics teacher, you are supposed to tell children that the speed of the rotation of the moon proves that God made the earth.
“May it please God,” he ended, “to raise up a new generation of scientists who are duly respectful of their Maker and who, recognising the limitations of human scientific enquiry, give full weight of respect to the statements of propositional truth of Holy Scripture – being the authoritative word of God.”
The Foundation website, with wonderful doublespeak, calls all this “an academic and inquisitive approach to spiritual matters including, amongst others, creation and the origin of life on earth”.
But there is also a sinister national agenda here. As long ago as 1995, it was spelled out in a booklet from Burn and McQuoid which gives us a chilling insight into the long term agenda of men whom Tony Blair has placed in a powerful position in British education.
It says: “In Britain the Christian churches were active in the field of schooling long before the state took over… In retrospect it is a matter of regret that the churches so readily relinquished control of education to the state.”
And there you have it. Education should be handed back to the churches. Our function as taxpayers should be confined to providing the money with which people like McQuoid and Burn can make sure we bring up a generation in their own image. And right now, the law, they think, is on their side: “It is only by God’s sovereignty that current legislation is couched in such advantageous terms in a country where genuine committed Biblical Christian faith is undermined in so many areas.” The very favourable atmosphere for religious indoctrination in schools is, of course, not the work of God but of Tony Blair, though perhaps that is the same thing.
Lest there is any doubt that religious indoctrination in schools is what they have in mind, consider this sentence: “Please do not mistakenly believe that a classroom or school can be neutral: even the absence of a statement can say that no statement is worth the making. As Christ’s commission clearly exhorts us, we are to go into all the world, preaching the gospel and making disciples.”
After detailing the way in which Christianity should be inculcated in every subject, from literature to geography to pottery, the authors say: “Christian Truth must play a vital part in all these matters because left to themselves they will be distorted and drained of meaning. Christianity and the Biblical Truth must find a place across the whole curriculum and not just be confined to the act of worship and Religious Education.”
. . .

Evolution in the Vatican?

From here;

POPE Benedict has said there is substantial scientific proof of the theory of evolution.

The Pope, speaking as he was concluding his holiday in northern Italy, also said the human race must listen to "the voice of the Earth" or risk destroying its very existence.

In a talk with 400 priests, the Pope spoke of the current debate raging in some countries, particularly the US and his native Germany, between creationism and evolution.

“They are presented as alternatives that exclude each other,” the Pope said.

“This clash is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favour of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.”

But he said evolution did not answer all the questions and could not exclude a role by God.

“Above all it does not answer the great philosophical question 'where does everything come from?'“

His comments appear to be an endorsement of the doctrine of intelligent design.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

A Call to Combat Creationism

From this press release;

The Christian think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association have written to the new UK Schools, Children and Families minister, Ed Balls MP, urging him to make progress on combating creationism in British schools.

The two organisations are working together on the issue to make it clear, contrary to assertions from some creationists, that the question of what it is appropriate to teach in science classrooms is not one which needs to divide people of religious and non-religious opinion.

It has been almost a year since the stepped-up attempts of creationist organisations such as ‘Truth in Science’ to have ‘intelligent design’ taught in schools. At that time the two organisations brought the issue to the attention of the DfES and shortly afterwards the government announced that they would be issuing guidance to schools to make it clear that creationism and intelligent design should not be taught as examples of scientific theories.

Many members of the public added their own voices to this call by writing to their own MPs and to the DfES.

In spite of this fact, the guidance has still not been issued, and the two organisations today called on Mr Balls to ‘ensure that this guidance is published as soon as possible, that it gives no loopholes in its wording that well-funded creationist organisations might exploit, and that it is as widely disseminated as possible and certainly to all schools and academies.’

Ekklesia stresses that creationism and ID are not just devoid of any scientific content that would make them valid theories of origins, but their proponents also trade upon poor theology and confused ideas about how to read religious texts.

The letter to Ed Balls MP runs as follows:

Dear Mr Balls,

We wrote to your predecessor on 29 September 2006 expressing our concerns about the sending of free ‘teaching resources’ to all schools by the inaptly named ‘Truth in Science’, a creationist organisation. We were reassured by the Government response at that time, that intelligent design and creationism should not be taught as science or as examples of scientific theories and that officials were ‘currently working with the QCA to find a suitable way of communicating to schools it is not part of the Science National Curriculum.’

More recently, we were pleased last week to see the Government response to a petition against creationism on the Number 10 website saying, ‘We will be publishing guidance for schools, on the way creationism and intelligent design relate to science teaching.’

We are writing now in the hope that you will take action to ensure that this guidance is published as soon as possible, that it gives no loopholes in its wording that well-funded creationist organisations might exploit, and that it is as widely disseminated as possible and certainly to all schools and academies.

Best wishes in your new responsibilities,

Simon Barrow

Andrew Copson
Education officer
British Humanist Association