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