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.