Sunday, 13 May 2007

News & Views on ID

Here is a selection of news and views on ID.

22/5/2007 - Guardian - The Wrecking of British Science

If the world's future lies in scientists' hands, the answers are unlikely to come from the UK unless we reverse decades of political neglect, argues Nobel laureate Harry Kroto.

Divisive dogma

Do I think there is any hope for UK? I am really not sure. It is beyond belief that in the 21st century, our prime minister and the Department for Education and Skills are diverting taxpayers' money to faith-based groups intent on propagating culturally divisive dogma that is antagonistic to the secular, enlightened philosophy that created the modern world.

It is a scandal that the present system is enabling a car salesman to divert significant government funds to propagate dogma such as "intelligent design" in our schools. State funds are also being used to support some schools that abuse impressionable young people by brainwashing them into believing that non-believers will burn for all eternity in the fires of hell. This policy is a perfect recipe for the creation of the next generation of homegrown and state-educated suicide bombers.

I think there is every likelihood that the lack of scientifically educated and aware young people in the UK will result in ever poorer performance on a global scale, and a takeover by the next generation of young Chinese and Indians, ravenous for the scientific knowledge that will free them from the shackles of present poverty levels. They are being actively encouraged by their governments, who understand that the future lies in a scientific education based on doubt and questioning, rather than on belief.

It is truly disturbing that a well-funded cohort of religious groups - aided, abetted and condoned by the Labour government - is undermining our science education. If they achieve any more success in their subversion of the intrinsic secular safeguards embodied in our democratic institutions and our educational system, there can be no doubt there is major trouble ahead. So my final message is: "Do Panic!"

12/4/2007 - Daily Telegraph - The Flaws in Intelligent Design

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is supported by the Pope

Thank God. If he had backed "Intelligent Design" I would have become a Scientologist. Because, frankly, there is about as much evidence for Intelligent Design as there is for the intergalactic emperor Xenu or whoever it is that L Ron Hubbard's disciples believe in.

Intelligent Design is Creationism. It argues that life forms are "irreducibly complex" and cannot have evolved because, erm... Darwin was wrong. OK, so maybe I'm simplifying the arguments of the ID lobby just a tad, but if you're looking for something to collect as a hobby, don't pick peer-reviewed scientific articles demonstrating the workings of Intelligent Design. There aren't any.

What did Benedict say? In essence, that you can't "prove" Darwin's theory, because you can't replicate mutations over millions of millennia in a laboratory. Also, the Pope doesn't believe that evolution can account for the creation of the universe.

He is a "theistic evolutionist", in other words, who thinks that God set evolution in motion (and that Richard Dawkins talks rot). He acknowledges that there are gaps in the theory - which is true, but they are gaps, not flaws - and that the science of evolution raises philosophical questions that it cannot answer. All very sensible.

But what a disappointment for the Discovery Institute, the ID organisation that persuaded Benedict's friend Cardinal Christoph Schönborn to endorse its ideas a couple of years ago (though he subsequently backtracked). Supporters of ID are now desperately spinning to suggest that the Pope implicitly supports the idea of an interventionist designer, but the truth is that if he had decided to back Intelligent Design he would have said so. And he didn't.

7/12/2006 - Guardian - Ministers to ban creationist teaching aids in science lessons

The government is to write to schools telling them that controversial teaching materials promoting creationism should not be used in science lessons.

The government has already stated that the Truth in Science materials should not be used in science lessons. On November 1, the education minister, Jim Knight, wrote: "Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum. The Truth in Science information pack is therefore not an appropriate resource to support the science curriculum." The Department for Education said it was working with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the public body that oversees the national curriculum, to communicate this message directly to schools.
But Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrats' science spokesman, said: "I'm amazed that they have found it so difficult and it has taken so long." He feared that some teachers would use the packs to promote intelligent design as a belief or that it would be presented as a valid scientific theory.

"[Pupils] are somehow being told these agendas are alternative ways of looking at things. They are not at all," the Nobel prizewinner and prime mover in the Human Genome Project, John Sulston, said at a lecture last week at the British Museum. "One is science - a rational thought process which will carry us forward into the indefinite future. The other is a cop-out and they should not be juxtaposed in science lessons."

27/11/2006 - BBC - Dozens of British schools are using creationist materials in science classes, a move that has been condemned by government ministers.

. . .a Government minister has said that says that Intelligent Design is not included in the national curriculum and should not be taught in schools. The majority of scientists in Britain also support this view.

27/11/2006 - Guardian - Who are Truth in Science?

Truth in Science (TiS) is a UK-based private organisation funded by donations from individuals. The group would not say how many individuals have contributed funds or what its total budget is, however Andy McIntosh, a professor of thermodynamics at the University of Leeds, who is on the TiS board, said the organisation was in the process of applying for charitable status.
The pro-evolution group the British Centre for Science Education estimates that TiS has spent around £116,000 to date including employing a full-time administrator for 18 months. The group has four board members including a scientist, a businessman, a teacher and a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. They also have a three-member scientific panel and a seven-member council of reference.

The material sent out on September 18 to school science teachers included two DVDs called Unlocking the Mystery of Life, and Where Does the Evidence Lead? that are each around an hour long. The second has sections entitled What Darwin Didn't Know and The Design Inference: the scientific evidence for intelligent design.

The videos were produced in America and feature many key figures linked to the Discovery Institute in Seattle, a thinktank that has made concerted efforts to promote intelligent design and insert it into high school science lessons over there. Its stated aim is: "To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

23/8/2006 - Daily Mail - Pope sacks astronomer over evolution debate

Pope Benedict XVI has sacked his chief astronomer after a series of public clashes over the theory of evolution.

He has removed Father George Coyne from his position as director of the Vatican Observatory after the American Jesuit priest repeatedly contradicted the Holy See's endorsement of "intelligent design" theory, which essentially backs the "Adam and Eve" theory of creation.

Benedict favours intelligent design, which says God directs the process of evolution, over Charles Darwin’s original theory which holds that species evolve through the random, unplanned processes of genetic mutation and the survival of the fittest.

But Father Coyne, the director of the Vatican Observatory for 28 years, is an outspoken supporter of Darwin’s theory, arguing that it is compatible with Christianity.

Although the Vatican did not give reasons for Father Coyne’s replacement, sources close to the Holy See say that Benedict would have been unhappy with the priest’s public opposition to intelligent design theory.

Father Coyne’s most notable intervention came after Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, a former student of the Pope, put the case for intelligent design in an article in the New York Times in July last year.

Benedict, one of the most respected theologians in the Catholic Church, is understood to be deeply interested in the evolution debate, and has referred to the cosmos as an "intelligent project".

The removal of Father Coyne also comes just weeks before the Vatican hosts a weekend seminar to examine the impact Darwin's theory on the Church's teaching of Creation.

22/6/2006 - The Register - Scientists call for teaching of facts of evolution

Scientists across the world are calling for the "evidence-based facts" of evolution to be taught to all children.
The InterAcademy Panel, a grouping of more than 60 international science academies, warned in a statement that information about evolution was being withheld from many children.

"[We] have learned that [in some cases] scientific evidence, data, and testable theories about the origins and evolution of life on Earth are being concealed, denied, or confused with theories not testable by science," it said.
The scientists go on to outline the basic evidence-based facts they want to see at the core of a science education. The writers argue that although there is uncertainty over the finer details of evolution, there are some basic principles of the theory that scientific evidence has never contradicted.
These points include:
the planet is approximately 4.5bn years old
the emergence of life on Earth occurred around 2.5bn years ago
the trick of photosynthesis, which is described as the "ultimate source of fixed energy and food upon which human life ... depends"
that since its emergence, life has taken various forms, all of which continue to evolve
commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their common primordial origin
The statement continues: "We urge decision makers, teachers, and parents to educate all children about the methods and discoveries of science and to foster an understanding of the science of nature.
"Knowledge of the natural world in which they live empowers people to meet human needs and protect the planet."
The statement is the latest installment of the long running creationist/intelligent designers vs. science and evolution battle.
Intelligent design is the thinly veiled creationist theory that some things are too complex to have evolved, and must have been designed by an intelligent higher power.

11/4/2006 - Royal Society statement on evolution, creationism and intelligent design

A statement opposing the misrepresentation of evolution in schools to promote particular religious beliefs was published today (11 April 2006) by the Royal Society, the UK national academy of science.

The statement points out that evolution is "recognised as the best explanation for the development of life on Earth from its beginnings and for the diversity of species" and that it is "rightly taught as an essential part of biology and science courses in schools, colleges and universities across the world".

It concludes: "Science has proved enormously successful in advancing our understanding of the world, and young people are entitled to learn about scientific knowledge, including evolution. They also have a right to learn how science advances, and that there are, of course, many things that science cannot yet explain. Some may wish to explore the compatibility, or otherwise, of science with various beliefs, and they should be encouraged to do so. However, young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge and understanding in order to promote particular religious beliefs."

Professor David Read, Vice-President of the Royal Society, said: "We felt that it would be timely to publish a clear statement on evolution, creationism and intelligent design as there continues to be controversy about them in the UK and other countries. The Royal Society fully supports questioning and debate in science lessons, as long as it is not designed to undermine young people's confidence in the value of scientific evidence. But there have been a number of media reports, particularly relating to an academy in north-east England, which have highlighted some confusion among young people, parents, teachers and scientists about how our education system allows the promotion of creationist beliefs in relation to scientific knowledge. Our Government is pursuing a flexible education system, but it should also be able to ensure and demonstrate that young people in maintained schools or academies are not taught that the scientific evidence supports creationism and intelligent design in the way that it supports evolution."

. . .The statement also criticises attempts to present intelligent design as being based on scientific evidence: "Its supporters make only selective reference to the overwhelming scientific evidence that supports evolution, and treats gaps in current knowledge which, as in all areas of science, certainly exist as if they were evidence for a designer'. In this respect, intelligent design has far more in common with a religious belief in creationism than it has with science, which is based on evidence acquired through experiment and observation. The theory of evolution is supported by the weight of scientific evidence; the theory of intelligent design is not."

30/1/2006 Catholic Online - Intelligent Design belittles God, Vatican director says

VATICAN OBSERVATORY DIRECTOR SPEAKS ON EVOLUTION – Jesuit Father George V. Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, is pictured in a 1996 file photo in Washington. In a Jan. 31 West Palm Beach, Fla., talk, Father Coyne says that Christianity is “radically creationist,” though the theory of Intelligent Design reduces and belittles God.

In his remarks, he also criticizes the cardinal archbishop of Vienna’s support for Intelligent Design and notes that Pope John Paul’s declaration that “evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis” is “a fundamental church teaching” which advances the evolutionary debate.

He calls “mistaken” the belief that the Bible should be used “as a source of scientific knowledge,” which then serves to “unduly complicate the debate over evolution.”

He points to the “marvelous intuition” of Roman Catholic Cardinal John Henry Newman who said in 1868, “the theory of Darwin, true or not, is not necessarily atheistic; on the contrary, it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of divine providence and skill.”

Pope John Paul Paul II, he adds, told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996 that “new scientific knowledge has led us to the conclusion that the theory of evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis.”

. . . the scientific theory of evolution, as all scientific theories, is completely neutral with respect to religious thinking. . .

. . . neo-Darwinian evolution is not in the words of the cardinal, ‘an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection. . .

. . . the apparent directionality seen by science in the evolutionary process does not require a designer. . .

. . . Intelligent Design is not science . . .

It is unfortunate that, especially here in America, creationism has come to mean some fundamentalistic, literal, scientific interpretation of Genesis. . .

22/12/2005 - Ekklesia - Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban - news from ekklesia

Senior scientists and theologians are among those who have welcomed Tuesday's landmark decision by a Pennsylvania federal judge that so-called Intelligent Design (ID) has no legitimate place in the science classroom.

The ruling is a major setback for the Christian right, who have been trying to use ID to promote creationism as a legitimate educational alternative to rigorous scientific theory.

Although Intelligent Design proponents last night rushed to condemn the Kitzmiller -v- Dover decision as ëa political ruling', their cause was immediately undermined by the fact that the presiding judge is a Bush appointee, and by the thoroughness of the 139-page ruling.

Not only does it say that Intelligent Design has no scientific basis (a part of the judgement which will be a benchmark in other cases related to ID), it also accuses its advocates of falsification and dishonesty in presenting themselves and their views.

Indeed several ID supporters repeatedly lied to cover their motives even while professing religious beliefs, said the judge.
The Dover verdict was especially damaging for leading Intelligent Design advocate Michael Behe of Lehigh University. The ruling observed: '[O]n cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not "good enough.''
Among those who testified against ID in Dover was the noted Catholic scholar John F. Haught, Professor of Theology at Georgetown University, and author of "God After Darwin? A Theology of Evolution".

Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK religious think-tank Ekklesia, says he is also pleased by the verdict.

'Intelligent Design is basically a variant of creationism in pseudo-scientific clothing,' he comments. 'As such it is an embarrassment to thoughtful Christianity and a threat to good theology as well as scientific integrity.'

Barrow says that the creationist and ID movements have grown in strength in the UK in recent years, and may seek to use the government's new education bill - which encourages private bodies to run state schools - as a way of gaining a further educational foothold.

Back in 2002 Anglican bishops and major scientists wrote to PM Tony Blair to raise concerns about science teaching at Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead, run by a conservative Christian group.

Similarly, the Grace Academy, due to open in Solihull this year, with another to come in Coventry, says it will teach creationism, according to press reports.

'It is extremely important, in the interests of truth, to ensure that we do not go down this route in Britain', says Barrow. 'Creationism and ID should no more be taught in science classrooms than astrology and numerology.'

1/9/2005 - Guardian - One side can be wrong

Accepting 'intelligent design' in science classrooms would have disastrous consequences, warn Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne

As teachers, both of us have found that asking our students to analyse controversies is of enormous value to their education. What is wrong, then, with teaching both sides of the alleged controversy between evolution and creationism or "intelligent design" (ID)? And, by the way, don't be fooled by the disingenuous euphemism. There is nothing new about ID. It is simply creationism camouflaged with a new name to slip (with some success, thanks to loads of tax-free money and slick public-relations professionals) under the radar of the US Constitution's mandate for separation between church and state.

Why, then, would two lifelong educators and passionate advocates of the "both sides" style of teaching join with essentially all biologists in making an exception of the alleged controversy between creation and evolution? What is wrong with the apparently sweet reasonableness of "it is only fair to teach both sides"? The answer is simple. This is not a scientific controversy at all. And it is a time-wasting distraction because evolutionary science, perhaps more than any other major science, is bountifully endowed with genuine controversy.

. . . It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In those cases, the demand for equal time for "both theories" would be ludicrous. Similarly, in a class on 20th-century European history, who would demand equal time for the theory that the Holocaust never happened?

. . .There is no evidence in favour of intelligent design: only alleged gaps in the completeness of the evolutionary account, coupled with the "default" fallacy we have identified. And, while it is inevitably true that there are incompletenesses in evolutionary science, the positive evidence for the fact of evolution is truly massive, made up of hundreds of thousands of mutually corroborating observations. These come from areas such as geology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, ethology, biogeography, embryology and - increasingly nowadays - molecular genetics.

The weight of the evidence has become so heavy that opposition to the fact of evolution is laughable to all who are acquainted with even a fraction of the published data. Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system.

9/3/2002 - Guardian - Matter of faith - Creationism at the taxpayers' expense

Emmanuel College in Gateshead is over-subscribed, with three children applying for every place. Parents are impressed by its excellent Ofsted reports and good results. The achievements of this city technology college have rightly been acknowledged by the Labour government and it has won beacon status. A sister school is set to open in Middlesbrough in 2003 and there could be another five, thanks to the munificence of Emmanuel College's main backer, Sir Peter Vardy, who has put the profits of his 80 car dealerships into charities devoted to education and children.
Admirable you might say, and so it is in many respects, but Sir Peter Vardy is an evangelical Christian, as are many of the staff of Emmanuel College, and it is the latter's strong religious beliefs which are clearly influencing the children's scientific education. The headteacher argues that evolution and creationism are both "faith positions". Several senior staff have published material on teaching creationism. A conference at the school this weekend stars the head of Answers in Genesis, a leading proponent of American creationist Christianity, which has, until now, failed to gain ground on this side of the Atlantic.

Understandably, Professor Richard Dawkins is incensed at the idea of creationism being taught to children at the taxpayers' expense. However, many parents in Gateshead are unperturbed, and understandably more interested in good results than in details of the biology syllabus. Meanwhile, the motives of the Vardy Foundation are quite clear: a seamless combination of educating while exposing a new generation of souls to Christian evangelicalism. The case graphically shows up all the paradoxes of the government's current enthusiasm for faith schools. The Department of Education is fast finding itself in a quagmire of controversial judgments about what forms of religious education are acceptable and what are not.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

How can I find out if my school is using this material?

Quite simply, ask them.

The material itself comes in two DVD cases entitled;" Unlocking the mystery of Life" and "Where does the evidence lead?". This is what the pack looks like;

I wrote to the head of science of my son's school with this letter;

Dear Dr XXXX,
I am the father of XXXXXX XXXXXX who is currently in year XX and who is studying for his GCSE XXXXXXphysics, chemistry and biology exams, amongst others.
I am a great fan of science and I try to keep up with developments as much as I can. I have been very disturbed by the recent news articles regarding the activities of the pressure group “Truth In Science” who as far as I can tell have little to do with either. If you are not aware they are a group of fundamentalist Christians who are attempting to push their faith in science classes.
In September 2006 they issued a TiS Resource pack. The purported scientific evidence included in this pack has been refuted by the scientific authorities in this field. A key local supporter, and regular preacher of, creationism in local churches is Prof. Andy McIntosh of Leeds university.
A recent DfES spokesperson said on the BBC this week; “Neither creationism nor intelligent design are taught as a subject in schools, and are not specified in the science curriculum.”, and from the same BBC article; "The National Curriculum for science clearly sets down that pupils should be taught that the fossil record is evidence for evolution, and how variation and selection may lead to evolution or extinction." The chairman of the parliamentary science and technology committee, Phil Willis, said using the packs in science classes "elevated creationism" to the same level of debate as Darwinism and that there was no justification for that. He added: "There's little enough time with the school curriculum to deal with real science like climate change, energy and the weather. "This is quite frankly a distraction that science teachers can well do without." Dr Evan Harris, honorary associate of the National Secular Society and Liberal Democrat science spokesman, said it was worrying that some schools were giving "this nonsense" any credence. Many leading scientists argue that ideas about intelligent design should not be allowed in school because they are simply not scientific. Back in April, the Royal Society warned against allowing creationism in school saying that pupils must understand that science backs Darwin's theory of evolution. The society's statement said: "Young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge and understanding in order to promote particular religious beliefs."

I personally have no objection to religion being taught in RE classes.
Please can you advise me if you have received the pack and if you intend to use it.
If you do have it and don’t want it I would be grateful to borrow it or take a copy at your own convenience.
Thank you for your help, I look forward to your reply,
Yours faithfully,

Clearly you will need to adapt the text to suit your own circumstances, feel free to use as little or as much of this letter as suits you.

In my case the head of science rang me in response to the letter and explained that he would not dream of using the material and had already passed it on to the RE department.

He did in fact recover the pack from them and handed it over to me saying;

"It is difficult enough to teach evolution to the children, without this nonsense material, which appears to be designed to confuse them."

Friday, 11 May 2007

Google Update

This blog now appears on the first page of a google search for "truth in science", at the very bottom of the page but at least we have made it to the first page.

This was one of the objectives I started out with - thanks to all who have visited - it's several hundred so far.

As always comments, feedback and suggestions are welcome.