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

The new theories of evolution

From The Daily Telegraph 17/7/2007;

"Darwin's ideas are being used by scientists to develop new drugs and plan phone networks, says Steve Jones."

"A whole group of intriguing conference titles turns on the Biblical injunction to Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.

Much wisdom has emerged from studying those busy beings."

"Evolution in the computer may soon overcome evolution in the real world, as bacteria and their digital equivalents use mutation and natural selection to defeat the challenges that human ingenuity throws at them.
That should prove the power of Darwin's theory to even the most hardened sceptic."