Creationism in the classroom; in 2 minutes you can help stop it; here’s how and why

Readers in England in particular, please write to your MP in support of the BHA campaign to combat Creationism, including Creationism in publicly funded schools; details here. The rest of this post is an explanation of why, shockingly, such action is necessary. In post-principle politics, it would be naive to suggest that this or perhaps any feasible alternative Government is really interested in the merits. The Creationists are a coherent constituency, who make their voices heard. Defenders of scientific reality (regardless of their position on religious matters) must do likewise. Dr Evan Harris assures us, and he should know, that 20 letters to an MP are a lot (Glasgow Skeptics 2011). So the readership of this column, alone, is enough to make a real contribution. Do it. And ask your friends to do likewise.

 The school “will retain its right to censor papers, under agreed conditions.”

Jewish faith school caught censoring questions on science exam papersYesodey Hatorah (Charedi Jewish) Senior Girls School blacked out questions about evolution on pupils’ science exams in 2013. One wonders how this was even possible, given that exam papers are supposed to be sealed until opened at the specified time in the presence of the pupils. However, when the relevant Examination Board, OCR, investigated, they were satisfied that no students had received an unfair advantage, and took no action. The Board now tells Ofqual, the government agency responsible for the integrity of examinations, that it intends “to come to an agreement with the centres concerned which will … respect their need to do this in view of their religious beliefs.” And OCR’s chief executive says the case has “significantly wider implications and could apply to other faith schools.

It gets worse; or perhaps it doesn’t. The school now says that it does teach evolution, but in Jewish Studies, that “there are minute elements within the curriculum which are considered culturally and halachically [in terms of Jewish law] questionable” (evolution a minute element!), that “This system has successfully been in place within the charedi schools throughout England for many years,” and that “we (the school) have now come to an agreement with OCR to ensure that the school will retain its right to censor papers, under agreed conditions.” The latest word, however, is that this agreement, and Ofqual’s acquiescence, may be unravelling under scrutiny, illustrating the importance of public awareness and response.

 Creationist Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm claims 15,000 school visitors annually and boasts of Government body award

Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, Bristol, England, UK         File:NHA.jpg

Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, near Bristol, which claims to be visited by 15,000 schoolchildren annually, promulgates the view that Noah’s Ark is historic (and indeed, pre-historic), displays posters arguing that apes and humans are too distinct to share a common ancestor, and suggesting how the different kinds of animal could have been housed in the Ark, which it regards as historical (Professor Alice Roberts reported on her own visit last December; I have discussed the Zoo Farm’s reaction to her account) . The giraffes, for instance, would according to one poster have been housed in the highest part of the vessel, next to the T. Rex (Hayley Stevens, private communication).

 This Zoo Farm recently received an award from the Council for Learning Outside the Curriculum, which justified itself by referring to”education that challenges assumptions and allows them to experience a range of viewpoints; giving them the tools needed to be proactive in their own learning and develop skills to enable them to make well informed decisions.” Connoisseurs of creationism will recognise this as a variant of the “teach the controversy” argument, which advocates presenting creationism and real science as alternatives both worthy of consideration, and inviting schoolchildren to choose between them.

 “We do not expect creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas to be taught as valid scientific theories in any state funded school.”

Evolution will become part of the National Curriculum in 2014. However, that curriculum is not binding on Academies or Free Schools. The Government assures us that this is not a problem, because all schools need to prepare for external exams, and these exams, of course, include evolution. Exams that the schools have now been openly invited to censor. There is supposedly clear guidance for state-funded schools in England. Michael Gove, Education Secretary, has declared himself  “crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact”, and official guidance to Free School applicants states “We would expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum. We do not expect creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas to be taught as valid scientific theories in any state funded school.”

The reality however is that what are clearly creationist establishments do get government funding. Creationist preschools, to which the guidance does not apply, can and do receive public money through nursery vouchers, while being run by organisations such as ACE (see below) that openly teach rigid biblical creationism along with even more rigid gender roles. BHA knows of 67 nursery schools that are run by Creationist or other organizations that openly reject the basics of biology. Some of these directly teach Adam-and-Eve history as fact that must be believed, and Government funding to these nursery schools may also be indirectly underwriting primary and secondary schools run by the same organizations.

 “We will teach creation as a scientific theory” 

In addition, a number of Academies and Free Schools have been licensed despite clear warning signals. Grindon Hall Christian School , formerly private, was licensed to receive public funding in 2012, despite a record of teaching creationism, and a website Creation Policy, hastily deleted after it received public attention, which stated “We will teach creation as a scientific theory”. Newark School of Enterprise, until recently expected to open in 2014, is a thinly disguised relabelling of Everyday Champions Church School, which was originally denied licensing because of its obvious links to a creationist church. (Last month, it was announced that the Government had withdrawn support for the school on other grounds.) Ibrahim Hewitt, of the Association of Muslim Schools, has said that his members’ schools, including six state-funded ones, taught children about Darwin, because they had to, but they also taught a different, Koranic view. The ill-fated al-Madinah School originally specified “Darwinism” as un-Koranic on its website, but under “curriculum” now says only “We are committed to providing a broad and balanced curriculum for all our pupils.  Further information will be available in due course.”

Pray for CST In the private sector, we have Christian Schools Trust (CST), with 42 schools. Some of these are applying for “Free Schools” status; so far unsuccessfully, but Tyndale Community School, which has been approved, is run by Oxfordshire Community Churches which also runs the CST Kings School in Whitney. CST schools teach Genesis as historical fact, with the Fall as the source of all evil, and discuss evolution in such a way as to make it seem incredible. According to the Ph.D. thesis of Sylvia Baker, founder and core team member of CST, 75% of students end up believing in Noah’s ark. Dr Baker, author of Bone of Contention and other creationist works,  is also directly linked to Genesis Agendum, a “creation science” website, and language in her style appears in the related WorldAroundUs “virtual museum”, which claims to show that

                               Book cover image: Bone of Contention

evolution and old Earth geology are outdated scientific paradigms in the process of crumbling (for a detailed analysis of the museum’s arguments, see here, where I describe it as a “museum of horrors”). Since 2008, CST and the Association of Muslim Schools have shared their own special inspectorate, of which Sylvia Baker is a board member. So the foxes placed in charge of the hen house have under two successive Governments been entrusted with the task of evaluating their own stewardship.

World Around Us

“…. towards a post-Darwinian view: some of the evidence”

 “…a body of recent, peer-reviewed scientific evidence is presented which suggests that all is not well with a number of aspects of evolutionary theory. Is this a paradigm crisis?
Organisms reveal levels of interdependence, and are therefore irreducibly complex.
Many of the rock formations result from catastrophic rather than gradual uniformitarian processes
The principles on which radioactive dating is based can be questioned”

In an even grosser scandal, NARIC, the National Academic Recognition Information Centre, has approved the ICCE advanced certificate, based on Accelerated Creation Education (ACE), as equivalent to A-level. ACE has claimed, and in the US still does claim, that Nessie is evidence for a persistence of dinosaurs, and teaches that evolution has been scientifically proven false, and that those who accept its “impossible claims” do so in order to reject God. This in a text that prepares students for a certificate that NARIC would have us accept as preparation for the study of biology at university. And NARIC is the body that provides information on qualifications on behalf of the UK Government.

The Hopeful Monster Theory

The ACE curriculum’s straw man version of evolution

In all these cases, the actual offence is compounded by official complacency or collusion. I can only guess at why is this allowed to happen, but among relevant factors may be official concerned with procedures rather than outcomes, scientific illiteracy among decision-makers, free market forces (the exam boards, after all, are competing for the schools’ business), misplaced respect for differences, and electoral calculation. Religious zealots form an organised political pressure group, while their reality-orientated co-religionists are far too slow to condemn them. Ironically, these co-religionists have even more to lose than the rest of us, as their institutions are subverted from inside, and their faith brought into disrepute.

In response, those of us who oppose the forces of endarkenment must become recognised as a constituency, not necessarily in any formal sense, but in the sense that politicians are aware of the depth of our concerns. Numbers are increasingly on our side, since young people are more sceptical than their elders, and Humanists, secularists, Skeptics, and even geeks are our natural allies. And so, on this issue, are liberal-minded believers from all faiths. There is need for coordinated public pressure, through teachers’ organisations, other educational bodies and learned societies, publicity and protests after specific cases revealed, and campaigns such as the BHA letter-writing campaign that is the subject of this post. So here, once more, is the BHA link: Use it.

For other posts on the issues discussed here, as they apply in England and Scotland, see Evolution censored from exam questions in publicly funded English schools, with government permission; PhD Thesis of Sylvia Baker, founder of “Christian” (i.e. Creationist) Schools Trust; Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm Responds to Criticism; ACE Infantile creationist burblings rated equivalent to UK A-level (school leaving; University entrance) exams; and Young Earth Creationist books handed out in a Scottish state school. Poster displayed at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, image by Pip through Wikipedia Commons. This post is based on a talk I gave to the Conway Hall Ethical Society on March 16, 2014.

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 March 29, 2014, in Creationism, Education, Politics, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Hello Paul, thank you so much for your swift response – which was completely unexpected!

    I do try to read as many papers as I can, but unfortunately many technical journals require membership and/or a subscription, which is why a lot of us tend to leave it to the experts to read them and interpret them for us, particularly when the subject lies outside our own field. As a retired chemist myself, I have noted your important point about adequate cleaning and sample prep, of course.

    You guessed correctly; the topics I raised were found on the Creation Ministries International website (although I do visit many of the others as well, including talkorigins), and yes, I was referring to the RATE study, so I thank you for your further advice on that topic.

    Three of the links I discussed are here:

    http://creation.com/dino-dna-bone-cells

    http://creation.com/diamonds-a-creationists-best-friend

    http://creation.com/flood-fossils-book

    I’m sorry for not citing those references earlier.

    I will look forward to your comments once you have had time to study the articles.

    Many thanks, Paul.

    Like

    • I was right. You HAVE been lied to. Life is too short for me to check out every claim in CMI. who after all have a paid full time team, but you will find a catalogue of such arguments by the hundred, and their refutations, at http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html. 1 and 3 I dealt with; for 2 you cite a book review. by one Vance, who turns out, when I google the quotation, to be Vance Nelson who believes that ancient artwork proves dragons were real.

      These days, you can almost always get at least the abstract and often key illustrations on line even for those papers behind a paywall. As a retired chemist, you are as competent as I am to critically examine the work you cite, you can often get leads from talkorigins as this stuff regularly recycles, and I will now leave you to do your own homework.

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  2. Paul, just how DO you account for (1) the presence of blood cells, flexible blood vessels, proteins (hemoglobin, osteocalcin, collagen, histones) and DNA, as well as significant amounts of C-14, all found in unfossilized T-Rex bones by Dr Mary Schweitzer (an evolutionist)? (2) What about fossilised fruit, said to be 23 mya old (Miocene) that still contained volatile components and chemical esters and retained its ‘fruit-like’ odors? Or (3) diamonds, and coal, still with Carbon-14 in them that are ‘dated’ at hundreds of millions or even billions of years old? Respectable scientists using world-class independent contract laboratories could go on listing all of these evidences – and more. Whats going on here?

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    • John, I would really like to know your sources, as I am serious about examining creationist arguments on their merits. You have been lied to, which grieves me, as you deserve better. As to the specifics you cite, (1) sheer misrepresentation; see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dinosaur/blood.html and http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dinosaur/flesh.html (or even, like me, read the actual original papers); “unfossilized”; what clown told you that? (2) please give reference; I cannot comment on your claims without knowing their basis (3) I assume you are referring to the RATE study; I have corresponded with Baumgartner, and with some of his former professional colleagues in New Mexico. See http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/rate-critique.html and refs therein. I have read some of the original RATE material, and was not impressed. Detailed scrutiny of RATE shows inconsistencies, unexplained differences from other groups looking at similar samples, and some real but perversely misinterpreted effects e.g. 14C attributable to modern bacteria, or to natural radioactivity interacting with 14N in coal. As for “independent contract laboratories”, if you are referring to the dinosaur bone sample work, the results are no better than the cleanup of the samples submitted. Moreover, the claimed surprises are restricted to either 14C, highly contamination prone, or to rocks that have undergone post-depositional alteration, generating anomalies that give further confirmation of the standard geological account of their formation.

      Like

  3. Concerned Parent

    I also see a big problem of tolerance here. To me it seems that one group says that they are tolerant of all views and theories yet by there actions they prove otherwise. I have no problem with creation being taught in schools right along side evolution. All views should be allowed and people should be free to make up their own mind. However I do have a problem with radical evolutionists who say that their way is the only way and if anything teaches otherwise then it should be done away with. It seems to me that they have become bind in their search for the truth! Stop the witch hunt on creationism and instead fight for equality for all views. Yes I agree this should apply to both sides but it sure seems to me that this site and others only see it their way and nothing else.

    Like

    • No, I will not tolerate my children being taught that the holocaust never happened, I will not tolerate them being told that the earth is flat, I will not tolerate them being told that atomic theory is only a theory and I will not tolerate them being taught that evolution is any more open to serious doubt than atomic theory because these things are not true.

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  4. Reblogged this on James's space and commented:
    Excellent Analysis of the current issues via Paul Braterman

    Like

  5. I didn’t know creationism was so prevalent in UK schools.

    The thing for me here is this: it’s abuse. It is deliberately setting children up to be failures in the real world. This is malicious, and the behaviour should be treated as such; as child abuse. Is not, after all, the purpose of education to prepare a child for adult life?

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  1. Pingback: Concerned about creationism in schools? Use this form to write to your MP in 2 mins. | Dreamkid

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