PhD Thesis of Sylvia Baker, founder of “Christian” (i.e. Creationist) Schools Trust

Events have made it important for this dissertation to be widely known, and its implications discussed. It is freely downloadable at http://go.warwick.ac.uk/wrap/3115

I am posting a summary of some of the more salient points. This is not so much a normal blogpost, as a simple information resource I had prepared for BCSE, and am now publishing in response to events; editing for tidiness can wait.

Note in particular Tables 7.1, 7.2 (pp 164, 167) regarding the beliefs of students taught by Christian Schools Trust, and the CST 2009 policy on teaching evolution in such a way that it will not be believed, pp 354 ff, attached at the end here. Material from the text is in black or red; insertions and comments in blueEmphasis is added unless stated otherwise.

P31: In one of the very few available studies, Francis and Robbins (2005) have examined the relationship between spiritual health and attending an independent Christian school, particularly in relation to urban living, using the model of spiritual health developed by the Australian researcher John Fisher (Fisher, Francis and Johnson, 2000 ). They consider that there are significant ways in which young people in the new Christian schools enjoy a higher level of spiritual health compared with young people in non-denominational schools and that this will predispose them to become good citizens. Francis and Robbins conclude that:

The positive interpretation of these findings is that Christian schools bring to the urban environment communities committed to shaping purposive young lives capable of contributing to the common good on both local and global levels. Such communities are constructive rather than divisive of urban hope for the future. Urban planners may need to recognise and to value the distinctive contribution made to urban living by the relatively recent movement to develop independent Christian schools (Francis and Robbins, 2005, pp131-132).[No lack of ambition]

P126: 5.5 The target population

The current survey aimed to cover as many as possible of the teenagers to be found in Years 9, 10 and 11 of the new Christian schools, particularly from those schools belonging to the Christian Schools Trust (CST).

Pp126-7: 5.6 The respondents

In the event, 25 schools returned completed questionnaires, of which 22 were schools belonging to the Christian Schools Trust. A total of 695 thoroughly completed questionnaires were returned, of which 673 were from CST schools, leaving just 22 from the three schools unconnected to the Trust. The schools had been asked to indicate how many pupils they currently had registered in Years 9, 10 and 11 at the time that the questionnaire was administered. The Christian Schools Trust schools indicated that they had a total of 782 pupils of this age. The three other schools did not provide this information but given that they only returned 22 questionnaires between them, they were clearly very small schools. The figures indicate that the 673 pupils who completed questionnaires from schools belonging to the Christian Schools Trust amounted to 86% of their total. The responses should therefore provide a reliable picture of the beliefs, views, values and concerns of the young people who are emerging from this sector of the educational scene.

Pp 150 – 151: The schools may well constitute the only setting within the United Kingdom where science education is approached within a creationist framework. For this reason the next chapter will focus exclusively on this issue.

P 152: This survey therefore has the opportunity to make a distinct contribution to the controversial issue of whether or not schools should allow creationism and intelligent design to be taught alongside evolution in science lessons. The importance of the matter was brought into sharp focus by the forced resignation of the Revd Professor Michael Reiss (Baker, 2009b) and it remains a major potential source of criticism for the new Christian schools.

Baker, S. (2009b) Creationism in the Classroom: a controversy with serious consequences, Research in Education, in press. [Actually 83, 2010, 78-88; a mixture of Steve Fuller’s extensively quoted reality-free view of science, what reads as a forceful and justified criticism of hostility towards believers, rather than just towards belief, on the part of some influential members of the Royal Society, and the absurd suggestion that scientific hostility to creationism is enforced by an elite, and may not even represent the views of most scientists.]

P 153: the term …creationism … is often used pejoratively to mean an anti-science position, founded on ignorance and imported in recent years from the United States. However, various forms of creationism have a long history in the UK. The Creation Science Movement (formerly the Evolution Protest Movement) was founded in Britain in 1932 and claims to be the oldest creationist society in the world (www.csm.org.uk) while the Biblical Creation Society, again a British organisation, was founded by academic theologians and scientists in 1976 (www.biblicalcreation.org.uk). The recent publication The New Creationism (Garner, 2009) provides an overview of the current position taken by British creationism.

Ch 7, at amazing length: extreme criticism of the Theos/Comres survey

158, note how she describes this creationist pseudo-textbook, which BCSE has analysed in detail: The student textbook Explore Evolution describes the problem [of defining evolution] like this:…

Pp160-161: 7.1 Creation and Evolution

The teaching of creationism as an alternative to the theory of evolution constitutes one of the most controversial issues involving the new Christian schools. Walford (1995a, p20) investigated 53 of the schools in 1993 and found that the teaching of creation and evolution was one of their distinguishing features. This has been confirmed by a recent investigation involving the schools which took part in this survey, as described in Chapter 3. The Christian Schools Trust statement on the teaching of creationism and intelligent design (see Appendix 3) clarifies the approach that the majority of the schools are taking.

[Appendix 3 appended; weasel-worded, and probably best dealt with by talking about the outcomes discussed here. By their fruits shall ye know them.]

P 164: Table 7.1

Teenage pupils from new Christian schools: their beliefs about creation and evolution              Disagree/ Not sure/ Agree                                                                 %    %    %

The earth is billions of years old                                                              45   42  27

I believe God made the world in six days of 24 hours                             13   30  57

The earth is only a few thousand years old                                             34  37  39

I believe in evolution creating everything over millions of years         76   16  7

Scientists have discovered how the world was made                              67   25   8

Everything in the world was made by natural forces, not designed     71   23   5

 P 166: The schools themselves claim that, in addition to placing all of their educational practice within a Biblical creationist framework, when it comes to science education they teach creationism alongside evolution as a debate. The responses of the young people in this section go some way towards supporting this claim. A substantial majority of the young people reject the concept that living things owe their origins to a process of evolution. A smaller majority endorse the Bible‘s account of creation. However, over the question of the age of the Earth their responses are more varied and a sizeable minority indicate that they have yet to make up their minds. This indicates that questions dealing with the age of the Earth may need to be investigated more precisely and again suggests that the definitions of creationism used in this kind of research need to become yet more nuanced.

P 167: Table 7.2

Teenage pupils from new Christian schools: their beliefs about science and the Bible

Disagree Not sure Agree                                                                       %    %    %

God created the world as described in the Bible                                       6  16  78

God created the Universe including living creatures out of nothing  6   20  74

God formed man out of the dust of the Earth                                        7   22  71

God made woman out of man‘s rib                                                        8   20  72

There was once a world-wide flood as described in the Bible              4   16  81

The world was once perfect but has been affected by sin                     5   15  81

I accept the idea that living things were made by a process of evolution  67  24  10

Science disproves the Biblical account of creation                             47  34  19

You can‘t be a good scientist and believe in the Bible                       68  24  8

P 168: According to the evangelical viewpoint held by those who are running the schools, the manner of the creation of the first man and woman is of essential importance to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Cameron, 1983, pp84-91), who is described in the New Testament as the “second” or “last” Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). Seventy-one percent of the young people in the schools claim that they believe that God formed man out of the dust of the Earth and only 7% do not believe it. Similarly, 72% believe that God made woman from Adam‘s rib, with 8% taking the opposite view. 81% of the teenagers believe that there was once a world-wide flood as described in the Bible with a tiny minority of 4% denying this, leaving 16% who are not sure about it.

 Theodicy is of central and critical importance to the creation/evolution debate and one item was included in this connection. Theodicy concerns the issue of God‘s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of suffering and evil. To the modern mind, this conundrum might appear to have nothing to do with the theory of evolution, but Cornelius Hunter has demonstrated that it is actually one of its defining concepts (Hunter, 2001). Hunter believes that Darwin was motivated towards evolution, not by direct evidence in favour of the theory but by problems with the notion of divine creation, because of how imperfect, even cruel, nature can be. “A good God would not have done it like this” is a common refrain when the subject is being debated. Creationists would argue that both suffering and death amongst animals and humans were not part of the original creation but instead are a result of “Adam‘s sin and the Edenic curse” (Tyler, 2003, p85). The great majority of the pupils, 81%, believe that the world was once perfect but has been affected by sin. Just 5% do not agree with this view and 15% have not yet decided one way or the other.

P 170: To summarise, the great majority of the young people in the new Christian schools accept a face-value reading of the early chapters of the Bible. They reject the theory of evolution and accept the existence of a supernatural designer. They hold traditional Christian views of Noah‘s flood and of the ―fallen‖ nature of the created order.

P 172: There is “science” connected with origins, much of which is historical in nature and therefore not open to what is normally regarded as the scientific method, and there is what might be summarised as “laboratory science”, where repeatable, verifiable outcomes are possible.

P 177: Table 8.1

Teenage pupils from new Christian schools: their personal well-being

                                                                  Disagree Not sure Agree  %    %    %

I feel my life has a sense of purpose                                                        4    14   83

I find life really worth living                                                                       7    19   75

I feel I am not worth much as a person                                                  68  18   14

I often feel depressed                                                                                    54  21   26

I have sometimes considered taking my own life                              71  10   19

P 179 Table 8.2

Urban Hope Survey Results: comparison by schools

Source: Francis and Robbins, 2005 pp234-236 New Christian Schools % Anglican Schools % Roman                    Catholic Schools % Non- Denom. Schools %
I feel my lifehas a sense ofpurpose 75 51 64 54
I find life reallyworth living 74 64 69 69
I often feel depressed 38 58 52 52
I feel I am notworth much asa person 12 17 13 14
I haveconsideredtaking my ownlife 15 30 26 28

[NB: New Christian School data for 2006, at height of boom; others from the depressed 1990s]

P 282: Table 11.29

Pupils compared by age: their views on education

Year 9 Year 11 Χ2 P< % %

Education is about learning facts 71 69 0.17 NS

Education is about passing exams 53 59 1.19 NS

Education is about learning how to live in a right way 68 70 0.09 NS

My schooling has helped me to know how to live in a right way 66 67 0.03 NS

Education is about understanding how to think about life 58 69 6.01 NS

Education is about understanding how other people think about life 44 61 14.16 .001

Education is about being prepared for life 80 84 0.97 NS

I want my children to go to a Christian school 70 52 15.35 .001 [Not directly relevant, but note the drop-off in wish to send one’s children to a Christian school after two more years of it. Particularly interesting in the light of the only other significant change]

P 296:Table 12.10 (Within the Christian schools)

Pupils compared by religion: their beliefs about creation and evolution

                                                                                                None      Christian      Χ2   P<  

The earth is billions of years old                                                           45       25            14.2      .001

I believe God made the world in six days of 24 hours                   21       62             49.3      .001

The earth is only a few thousand years old                                     9          43            34.2      .001

I believe in evolution creating everything over millions of years    24     5               38.8       .001

Science disproves the Biblical account of creation                            15    19      .07         NS

Table 12.11

Pupils compared by religion: their beliefs about science and the Bible

                                                                                                                      None      Christian      Χ2 P<

God created the world as described in the Bible                                              26 84 137.3      .001

God created the Universe including living creatures out of nothing       26 80 104.8      .001

God formed man out of the dust of the Earth                                                      14 79 141.0      .001

God made woman out of man‘s rib                                                                           14 80 150.7 .001

There was once a world-wide flood as described in the Bible                       24 87 172.3 .001

The world was once perfect but has been affected by sin                                24 87 170.5 .001

I accept the idea that living things were made by a process of evolution 26 7 27.2      .001

Everything in the world was made by natural forces – it was not designed 19 4 32.6      .001

Scientists have discovered how the world was made                                            16 6 11.2      .001

You can‘t be a good scientist and believe in the Bible                                            10 7 0.8      NS

Appendix 3 [to thesis]: Statement concerning:

The place of the teaching of the Creation/Evolution debate and Intelligent Design in schools affiliated to the Christian Schools Trust [2009]

[Note that this is what Dr Baker is advocating]

The Christian Schools Trust is a network of independent schools, each of which is able to subscribe to an evangelical basis of faith. The Trust is not in a position to impose stipulations on to its member schools with regard to secondary matters, nor would it wish to do so. The creation/evolution debate, although held to be very important, is regarded by the Trust as a secondary matter, which recognises that there is a diversity of views on this issue amongst Christians who hold a high view of the authority of Scripture.

The Christian Schools Trust affirms a high view of God as the Creator and sustainer of the Universe and of all living things. It categorically rejects the notion that living things have come into being by a random and purposeless process in which God has played no part. It rejects the idea that living things came about by a process involving the death and destruction of mutated creatures and affirms the belief, held by many scientists both past and present, that nature provides abundant evidence of the hand of a Designer.

The following description of how the creation/evolution issue is being approached represents the position held by many of the schools although not necessarily by all.

Teaching at Primary Level

About 50% of CST schools consist only of primary departments. The majority of the rest cover both primary and secondary levels. Young children within the schools would learn from the start of their schooling that they are created beings, that they are very valuable to God and that they are made in His image. They would be taught that He is the Creator of all things, including all living things, and that He has designed this Earth to be their home. They would also learn that creation was originally good but that it is now flawed as a consequence of sin introduced into the human race by Adam and Eve. The picture presented would be one of decline from an original state that was perfect and highly ordered. The children would be introduced to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came to save both them and all of creation from the devastating effects of rebellion against God. [NB: this means that Adam and Eve are being taught as historical fact and as fundamental to faith, the effects of rebellion against which can be devastating]

This traditional, orthodox, Christian viewpoint, based on teaching that resonates throughout the Bible and has been preserved for millennia in creeds and catechisms, would form the framework within which all subjects, not just those related to science, would be taught. It would not be confined to RE lessons, giving the impression that it would not matter if the opposite were taught in other subjects. The schools would aim to teach consistently within this view of reality. The theory of evolution would rarely be taught directly at primary level, except to answer children‘s questions should they arise or to deal with it in immediately relevant subjects such as when fossils or dinosaurs are under consideration. The creation/evolution debate might possibly be handled in more detail with older primary children if individual schools and teachers consider it to be appropriate.

 

Teaching at Secondary Level

The general framework of Christian theism described above applies as much to the teaching of the older children as it does to the younger. In addition, ideally,

by the time students reach Years 10 and 11 they will have been fully exposed to the creation/evolution debate. Evidence for and against the theory of evolution will have been evaluated and discussed and they will have been made aware that many, probably [!] most, of today‘s scientists support the theory. However, it will also have been pointed out that many well-qualified scientists oppose it or dissent from it in some way. The role taken in the development of modern science by Christians such as Kepler, Boyle, Newton, Linnaeus, Faraday and Mendel will have been emphasised and it will have been noted that some of these, including Isaac Newton and Carl Linnaeus, held essentially the same position as today‘s “Young-Earth” creationists.

Students will also have been made aware of the differing positions held by Christians on this issue and may have been given an overview of both “Young-Earth” and “Old-Earth” creationist viewpoints and the theistic evolution position. By this stage, it should have been made clear to the students that creationist scientists have no quarrel with Darwin‘s theory that limited change in populations might possibly occur by a process of natural selection. They should have had the opportunity to see that this is not what the debate is about, except that most of the supposed “overwhelming evidence” for evolution falls into this uncontentious and undisputed category. The students will have been told that the debate is about the much more contentious issue, for which creationists maintain there is no convincing evidence, that there is no limit to this process and that by it all living things have come into being in a random, purposeless, fashion involving the deaths of countless billions of mutated creatures.  The creation/evolution controversy provides a stimulating, up-to-date and interesting context within which many important philosophical and scientific principles can be evaluated. Young people educated in this way do well at science both at GCSE level and beyond. Former pupils of CST schools who proceed to University are often surprised at the ignorance, on this topic, of their peers who have been educated in a secular setting which denies that the debate even exists.

Intelligent Design

The Christian Schools Trust is watching the increasing impact of the Intelligent Design Movement with interest. The fundamental premise of the movement, that biological systems show evidence of having been designed, is one that is to be predicted by those who believe in a Creator.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on February 7, 2014, in Creationism, Education, Religion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Wow. One of the oldest items in my collection of creationist literature is a 33 page booklet by Sylvia Baker, M.Sc, from 1976, called “Bone of Contention”. It’s a credulous collection of blithering nonsense from creationist sources. Never expected to hear of her again. The thesis sounds like it’s of similar quality.

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    • She is science advisor to Christian Schools Trust, and on the board of the Government body specially set up to examine fundamentalist Christian and Muslim schools in a suitably sensitive manner. She is also almost certainly (from choice of phrase) involved in the fraudulently entitled “World Around Us”, a Young Earth Creationist virtual museum, offered as a resource to schools. The thesis is an extremely useful document to those who want to defend science from nonsense; it shows that if you teach kids creationism in school, they’ll believe you, and that the creationism itself is based on a loony version of salvation/Fall of Man theology.

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  2. Some strange things going on with the statistics. She draws heavily on the work of her thesis advisor, the Rev Leslie Francis. On page 32 she says

    “Francis (2005a) surveyed nineteen of the new Christian schools as part of a wider investigation into teenage religion and values. The values of 136 13-to-15- year-old boys were compared with those of 12,823 boys attending non-denominational state-maintained schools. Some very strong differences between the two groups emerged from this study.”

    So…12,823 in the state schools versus only 136 taken from 19 Christian schools?

    Why such a small sample? Was there a lot of nonresponse? Did she even check that the social class distributions of the the two school types was similar?

    She shows no understanding that between-school variation needs to be taken into account before standard errors and P-values canbe calculated. You need a random effects or multilevel model but this is nowhere mentioned, so probably the P values are all wrong.

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    • I’ve not considered the methodology and statistics. In the nature of things, she was studying a relatively small number since she was looking at a small number of schools. My own interest is in the broad outcomes (if you teach schoolkids creationism as fact, they’ll generally believe you) and policy and motivation (enormously revealing). And she sits on the special inspectorate that examines “Christian” schools.

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  3. Interesting statistics. Surely the antidote to early brainwashing would be for all pupils in their final year to be exposed to a scientific learning curve on Darwin’s contribution to science (and humanity!). Any moral compass acquired from earlier religious teachings should by and large remain unaltered, but not creationism.

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  4. There’s an awful lot to digest here (will have to read and re-read), but this comment immediately stands out: “Urban planners may need to recognise and to value the distinctive contribution made to urban living by the relatively recent movement to develop independent Christian schools”

    Is she suggesting a redirection of public funds based on religion? If so, this is a deplorable statement.

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    • That is exactly what she (by citing with approval) is suggesting. And most deplorably, Government policy for England and Wales goes a long way in this direction with its Free Schools policy (free to those setting them up; not to the local taxpayer who is forced to fund them). There is official language requiring the teaching of evolution, and outlawing the teaching of creationism as science, but that may offer little protection.

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      • This is an ugly proposal. Linking the distribution of public funds to something as specific as creationism is not only outrageous, but dangerous.

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      • Not quite as bad as that in theory, although it might well be in practice. The Free Schools are self-governing and while they have to pass inspection do not have to follow the national curriculum. Their funding agreement says that they must teach evolution and not teach creationism, but the reality on the ground might be very different. And there are at least two examples of consortia controlled by creationists being given permission (and money) to set up such schools.

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      • It’s truly odd. I had a full Catholic education, and not once did the bible ever come up. Science was, in fact, the single most promoted thing in my secondary school. Professor Julius Sumner Miller would spent 2 weeks at our school every year when he use to travel regularly to Australia (he’d stay at the rectory), and our Physics/Biology wing was the envy of most other schools. Now, how on earth has creationism found its way into schools? We shouldn’t be having this conversation… But i know i’m singing to the choir here.

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