Creationism in the news

Big news for the battle against creationism in Britain: Professor Alice Roberts has thrown her weight behind getting creationism out of school science lessons. That’s what my New Statesman article was in response to. This is awesome because Alice is both a TV star and an academic with relevant expertise – she is one of two people I can think of who could say this and be taken seriously (the other is Brian Cox). At this point, I think Richard Dawkins coming out with a statement to this effect would be so unsurprising it would barely register.

Anyway, earlier this week Alice appeared on BBC2’s The Daily Politics to debate this. She actually mentioned me, which was nice. The episode is currently on BBC iPlayer (sorry international viewers, hopefully someone will get this on YouTube so you can see it). Alice’s segment starts at 1:17:12, and she mentions me at 1:19:50.

I gave my response to this for the new episode of the Pod Delusion podcast. [MP3 link] [iTunes link]

While I’ve got your attention, I’d like to ask a favour. The Skeptic magazine is hosting its annual awards. If you enjoy this blog, please vote for Leaving Fundamentalism (http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com) in the Best Blog category. Go here to vote. Let me know if you do it so I can thank you.

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About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on February 7, 2014, in Creationism, Education, Faith Schools and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. I had never heard of the Ockham’s – I hope you win!

  2. I voted, good luck!

  3. Another vote. Good luck!

  4. I’m uncomfortable with explicitly banning teaching creationism. It rings the wrong alarm bells for me. It makes it out to be something that should be feared. We don’t ban teaching anything else that’s wrong, such as the geocentric universe or flat earth.

    Instead schools which fail to stick to the curriculum should be forced to change or close.

    • Its perfectly fine to teach it in a religious studies class as a belief, however teaching as science is wrong. It is lying to children and teaching it as fact is a really dishonest thing to do, would you be happy for a science teacher to tell kids that the world is flat?

      • The thing about teaching it in any class is that as soon as the kids go to science, geography, biology, chemistry and pretty much any other class it gets contradicted. Here in England creationism isn’t a curriculum subject, just like flat earth isn’t and geocentrism isn’t.

        More than that, creationism isn’t even a majority belief within Christianity.

        Hence I maintain that a specific ban shouldn’t be needed and isn’t appropriate. It simply shouldn’t be taught by the simple fact is not worthy of being on the curriculum.

        Schools that insist on teaching anything that’s not curriculum should have action taken for that offence. I think targeting specific points of nonsense is inappropriate.

      • In that case, what you’re advocating limey is a move to a system like the one in Scandinavia, where there is a national curriculum that has to be followed in all schools, public or private, religious or secular. That’s not how it is in the UK. Only state schools teach the national curriculum here. Academies and Free Schools can choose their own curriculum (although they can’t teach creationism), and independent (private) schools can do what the hell they want.

      • Yeah I guess I am. I just don’t see how there can be any justification for letting schools have free rein over what they wish to teach.

      • Well, the defence some people would use, for which I have some sympathy, is that if the schools don’t have free rein, someone has to regulate it. Do we trust government to do that?

      • My response would be to question if a school’s board of governors would be more qualified than a government with advisors. I’d also suggest that the whole point of a democracy is that if you don’t like the way something is done you can campaign to change it.

        Just because someone has little faith in the government it doesn’t mean the government is wrong.

        I’d say letting schools have free rein opens more opportunities for poor education which surely must be a bad thing.

      • Also, while I think of it:

        The thing about teaching it in any class is that as soon as the kids go to science, geography, biology, chemistry and pretty much any other class it gets contradicted. Here in England creationism isn’t a curriculum subject, just like flat earth isn’t and geocentrism isn’t.

        Not in a creationist school. They do quite a good job of editing out things which contradict their worldview. And therein lies the danger of creationism.

        Also, you’re assuming creationist schools operate on something like a normal timetable. The ones in Britain are all so small I very much doubt that’s the case; there wouldn’t be the staff or student numbers to do it.

      • Yeah my memory of early school is that references to evolution that couldn’t be avoided were actively dismissed. I have no idea how many we removed before they got to class. This wasn’t in the UK though.

  5. An online search landed me on your blog and I haven’t stopped reading since. I just submitted your blog for Skeptic Magazine’s Annual Award. No need for thanks. We should be thanking you instead.

  6. I found (I think) the clip on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyqWiUI-gzQ

  7. I thought Professor Roberts was a little disingenuous in her piece on Daily Politics. Comparing evolution and creationism is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. One is concerned with how the world came to be and the other with how man developed over time.

    Perhaps it would be better to present both cases in school and allow pupils to arrive at their own conclusion, given the evidence (or lack thereof) of both arguments.

    I also think it would be helpful for both sides to acknowledge that their views are based on faith. Creationists based on their interpretation of the Bible, and evolutionists on their interpretation of science.

    As a small aside, it would be a shame for mentions of creation to be entirely removed from teaching, certainly in Scotland, where schooling was handed over from the church to the state, with the proviso that Christian elements would remain. Not sure if the same situation occurred in England or elsewhere.

    • The type of creationist teaching Alice Roberts is talking about is (attempting to be) in direct competition with evolution. They both make empirical claims about the history of the world. They cannot both be true.

      I get what you’re saying about presenting both cases (that’s sort of what I argued for on the Pod Delusion last week), but there’s a problem: There is no scientific evidence for creationism. There is no case to present. The question of whether there is a theological case is a separate one. I would say there’s no case there either (as would the overwhelming majority of theologians), but that’s not a discussion for science class.

      So even presenting them as a scientific debate implies that there’s a scientific conversation worth having, and there isn’t.

      Second, I don’t trust creationists to do it fairly. All the creationist arguments I’ve ever seen have been specious and fallacious.

      To be clear, we’re not talking here about the belief that God made the world (perhaps by triggering the Big Bang, or causing the first sparks of life to appear). We’re talking about the claim that the Earth is 6,000-10,000 years old, that we’re all descended from two humans who lived within that time, that animals of different ‘kinds’ do not share common ancestry, and that a catastrophic global flood wiped out almost all life approximately 4,000 years ago.

      There is evidence that can confirm or disconfirm those claims, and the evidence disconfirms them. If someone chooses to continue believing it, they are doing it flying in the face of all the evidence, and suggesting anything else to children is dishonest.

      • They may both be true, but our knowledge/understanding to date cannot yet reconcile the two viewpoints. Among Christians, the exact happenings as laid out in Genesis are not agreed on across the board, just as (I assume) there may not be complete consensus among the scientific community about the detailed workings of evolution. To say that there is definitely not (or never will be) some combination of creationist thinking that accords with what science (to date) can explain, would be naive. I say this while acknowledging the fact that you are talking specifically about a certain dogmatic view of creation and the age of the earth.

        I agree that the science classroom is not the correct forum to discuss creationism. However, by the same token, I don’t believe the science classroom is the correct forum in which to make strong claims about the extent to which evolution can explain how we came to be where we are today – the evidence is just not there, yet. In a similar way to you not trusting creationists to do this fairly, I do not trust scientists to communicate fairly the limits of what can be explained by evolution, without introducing elements of conjecture, which would no-doubt be taught as fact.

      • Among Christians, you have those who accept that Genesis can’t be taken literally, and people whose views are incommensurable with reality and extremely unhelpful.

        I don’t know what claims you think science teachers are making, but good science teaching is not dogmatic. The evidence for evolution and common descent is established beyond doubt, as I think you acknowledge. Good science teaching doesn’t require students to believe anything. It simply presents the scientific understanding so that students can understand what scientists think & why, and what can be done with this information.

  8. You also have Christians who believe that, although it is difficult to reconcile with our understanding of the way the world works, God created the earth as is recorded in Genesis. They would probably also argue that a God powerful enough to create such a vast and complex universe would not be subject/bound/hindered/restricted by the rules of his creation. (Again, I fully accept that this will be an entirely unsatisfactory argument as far as you are concerned). A healthy dose of humility would go a long way in these discussions, to acknowledge that there are some things we do not know. There is obviously no harm in rigorously exploring them, none-the-less

    I have no idea what science teachers teach, it has been a good while since I attended science classes or had anything to do with the school system, but I would find it hard to accept that teaching of any sort was not biased at least in small part by vested interests.

    I do of course accept that many elements of evolution exist, but do not accept that it proves many of the claims attributed to it beyond doubt. That’s my point about what science teachers can be trusted to communicate.

    • Because you’re not specific about what claims you do and don’t accept, I can’t be sure what point you’re trying to argue, but I suspect you’re just misinformed as to the evidence for evolution.

      As for all the stuff about God, not science, not relevant for a science lesson.

      I also notice that above you created a dichotomy between “science teachers” and “Christians”, and that seems like a creationist bit of rhetoric rather than something that has any basis in truth. I know plenty of Christian science teachers who will tell you evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence. I don’t have the statistics, but I suspect Christianity is well represented among British and American school science teachers.

      • Yes, I appreciate that my points about the claims attributed to evolution are vague. Not because I have been misinformed, rather I’m ill-informed at the moment. I only really started looking into it since I saw the piece on Daily Politics. Hence why I’m not in a position to debate the minutia of the subject, which I don’t think either of us would want to do even if we could. Having said that, my main difficulty in accepting that evolution led from some type of lower/different life form to man is the lack of evidence for the ‘missing links’. Would happily read the latest articles/evidence on this if pointed in the right direction, so that I can make my own conclusions. However, at the moment I remain unconvinced by what I have read.

        My creation of a dichotomy was unintended. To say that there are Christian science teachers doesn’t really prove anything. I’m never convinced by arguments preceded by qualifying statements such as ‘Nobel Prize winner …, inventor of the …, who is also a Christian, believes…’, just as I don’t give any more weight to arguments preceded by phrases like ‘a group of atheist Nobel Prize winners believe that…’. These sorts of arguments appeal to the notion that clever/important people are always right. I’d rather view the evidence and make my own informed decision.

      • Oh certainly, I wasn’t using an argument from authority here, just pointing out that if you think science teachers have a vested interest in pointing children towards atheism, I don’t think that’s justified.

        The issue of transitional fossils is interesting because it requires a discussion of what sort of fossils we should expect to find. Tiktaalik is the most exciting transitional fossils, because scientists predicted that a transitional form like Tiktaalik should exist if their theories were correct, so they set out to find it and… boom.

        Creationists often ask why there are no crocoducks, etc, and of course the answer is that this is not what the theory of evolution predicts we should find at all. Also, skeletons only fossilise under certain circumstances, so we can’t reasonably expect to find a fossil of every variety of creature that’s ever lived.

        There’s a good discussion of Tiktaalik and transitional fossils in Jerry Coyne’s book Why Evolution Is True, if you can hack the fact that he’s an avowed atheist.

        I also found this with a hasty google: http://www.livescience.com/3306-fossils-reveal-truth-darwin-theory.html

      • Excellent, thanks. I’ll go and have a look at those. I’m sure I’ll cope that he’s an atheist.

  9. Interesting exchanges. Science relies on naturalism – that does not equate to atheism necessarily. YEC-ism is, essentially, an attempt to REFUTE mainstream science using the Bible as its source or inspiration (of necessity YECs make claims that go BEYOND Genesis since Genesis is thousand of years old and only touches on scientific ideas and predates some discoveries that YECs either cannot deny or might not want to deny whether ice ages or electricity). We also know from last week’s big debate that a leading YEC was unable, despite claiming to be so able, to present six ‘PREDICTIONS’ that his (young Earth) creation model has made (to my mind he presented just one, possible, prediction and that was not something that ONLY a Biblical fundamentalist would necessarily predict – that life has been found to be complex which MIGHT suggest ‘design’ and point to an ‘intelligence’ behind it). See my post-debate comments here if interested, especially at 6.39 pm on 6 February:

    http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3421&start=150

    Also, as I understand it, the curriculum in state schools (elsewhere too probably) is crowded thus there is little time for discussions within science (or elsewhere) of what most scientists regard as pseudo-science – such as eg creationism, astrology, telepathy, homeopathy etc etc.

  10. Interesting exchanges. Science relies on naturalism – that does not equate to atheism necessarily. YEC-ism is, essentially, an attempt to REFUTE mainstream science using the Bible as its source or inspiration (of necessity YECs make claims that go BEYOND Genesis since Genesis is thousand of years old and only touches on scientific ideas and predates some discoveries that YECs either cannot deny or might not want to deny whether ice ages or electricity). We also know from last week’s big debate that a leading YEC was unable, despite claiming to be so able, to present six ‘PREDICTIONS’ that his (young Earth) creation model has made (to my mind he presented just one, possible, prediction and that was not something that ONLY a Biblical fundamentalist would necessarily predict – that life has been found to be complex which MIGHT suggest ‘design’ and point to an ‘intelligence’ behind it). See my post-debate comments in the Bill Nye thread at the British Centre for Science Education community forum if interested, especially my comment at 6.39 pm on 6 February [I tried posting the link four hours ago but my post is stuck in pre-moderation mode].

    Also, as I understand it, the curriculum in state schools (elsewhere too probably) is crowded thus there is little time for discussions within science (or elsewhere) of what most scientists regard as pseudo-science – such as eg creationism, astrology, telepathy, homeopathy etc etc.

  11. In debates about these sorts of issues, where faith is stumped against evidence based., peer reviewed scientific fact, many people seem to think that the weight of argument for each is equal. It’s not. One is factual the other is almost certainly (or in this case certainly) not. To give them equal weighting, for example by even suggesting it has any place in the school curriculum, is to over-state the validity of something like creationism. It’s high time fairy tales were not given equal billing with science. What next? Astrology and its effects on history? Or famous voodoo assassinations?

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