Evolution is a lie says the school. Good curriculum, says England’s School Inspectorate

MaranathaPlaque Maranatha Christian School, featured in a BBC news report this week, teaches that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that this is a scientifically established fact, and that evolution has long since been scientifically disproven. Then why do some scientists still advocate it? Because they don’t want to admit the existence of a God to whom they would be morally responsible. It is these GodlessEvolutionsame benighted evolutionists who are responsible for the theory that the Sun is powered by nuclear fusion., whereas in reality it is powered by gravity, and shrinking at such a rate that it would have been large enough to engulf the young Earth if the Earth really were millions of years old. But of course we shouldn’t be contemplating any such silly idea, because God has told us different and that settles it. The waters above the firmament in Genesis 1 ended up feeding Noah’s flood, which was accompanied, as in Henry Morris’s “Creation Science,” by fierce volcanic activity. Obsidian cliffs (!) prove that Yellowstone was once under FloodVulcanismEd 16.34.12water. Geological strata match flood geology, but not the Old Earth geology favoured by “some” [sic] scientists. Fossils were caused by rapid burial under flood sediments. Random mutations could not have led to progressive evolution; proving this “fact” is a stated course objective. Evolution in any case defies the laws of thermodynamics, which are clearly referred to in the Bible. All this and more is in the ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) curriculum, and you can find out much more about it at Leaving Fundamentalism, the website of my friend Jonny Scaramanga who speaks of ACE education from bitter personal experience. Despite all this, the school was rated “Good” last October by Ofsted, the English Schools Inspectorate, as are numerous other schools using the same curriculum. Why? Because, among other things like having improved on earlier safety standards,

Teaching and the curriculum are of good quality. Work is highly individualised and is mostly well matched to pupils’ capabilities. … Pupils demonstrate high levels of independence when learning…

In reality, Jonny tells us, pupils in ACE schools sit in individual carrels as they work through identical rigidly defined modules, albeit at their own speed, and are evaluated on their ability to answer multiple choice questions restricted to the content of these modules, while the role of the teachers is largely restricted to answering questions based on the text. This may explain why several staff members at Maranatha, described as monitors or supervisors, appear from the school’s web site to have no academic training or teacher training at all, other than that provided by ACE. But I have omitted a very important part of the report:

Pupils’ spiritual development is promoted outstandingly well. Christian beliefs and values permeate all aspects of school life.

When I hear the words “Christian beliefs and values,” I always wonder what they mean. What beliefs and values, for instance, are shared by American Tea Party politicians, the Pope, liberal think-tanks like Ekklesia, Unitarians (sometimes described as believing that there is at most [1] one God), and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland which refuses to celebrate Christmas? Happily, in this case, the school tells us how it defines Christianity in the Statement of Faith on its web site:

The Bible is the supreme final authority in all matters of doctrine and conduct… the original creation of all things by God for His own pleasure in six literal days

(Appeal: when you come across such revealing statements of faith or other matters from educational establishments, first take a screen shot since they have a strange habit of disappearing when publicised, and then please send me a copy for my files.)

How, I wonder, does the Bible display its authority in everyday matters? First, from a biology module, on why cheating on the job or at school is wrong. Illustrated by a father-son dialogue:

“The Bible tells us that we should be ‘subject’ to those who are in authority over us because those who are in authority have been placed in that position by God. If I fail to obey my employer, I also fail to obey God.”

“ I see what you’re saying, Dad. God has placed the school personnel in authority over me. If I disobey them, I also disobey God.”

Then on matters of social policy. Here the Ace curriculum is quite explicit:LeftRight

“In economics, politics, theology, and so forth, people take their personal position somewhere on the spectrum between the two extremes of the left and the right. They think, make decisions, and act based upon their position.

“Each man’s philosophy is rooted in his relationship with God. Therefore, where he settles on the spectrum depends on his relation to Biblical absolutes.”

So there you have it. Left Wing bad, Right Wing good, and the more Right Wing the better. That’s because the Left are godless and have no values. If this is not extremism, what is? And yet, the BBC tells us, of the nine ACE schools inspected by Ofsted since the start of 2013, eight of them were rated either good or outstanding. I can only wonder whether they would have come up with the same ratings if the values that “permeate all aspects of school life” had been based on any other faith or lack of faith, or if the Wisdom message had been that the Left, rather than the Right, had a monopoly of virtue. According to the BBC,

Ofsted said it had previously not been authorised to assess the schools’ curriculums – only the quality of their teaching and leadership – but that under a “new tougher inspection regime” for independent schools introduced in April schools were now “expected to teach a broad and balanced curriculum”.

Is this change going to help things? I doubt it. Ofsted may say they were not seeking to examine the curriculum at the time it last inspected Maranatha, but they did so anyway, describing it as “of good quality.” To be fair, the ACE curriculum only takes up a little more than half the school day, I have only focused on Maranatha because it happened to feature in the BBC story, and I have indirectly heard good things about Maranatha’s non-ACE activities. None of this, however, excuses it from espousing as its core activity a curriculum that presents creationist twaddle as real science, grants a monopoly of Christianity to a lunatic far-right fringe, and impugns the motives and credentials of generations of scholarly believers who seek to accommodate their understanding of Scripture to scientific reality, from John Ray in the 17th century through Darwin’s friend Asa Gray to Ken Miller, Francisco Ayala, and Francis Collins in our own day.

What of the BBC? They, after all, have a responsibility to a far wider audience, if a less individually powerful one, than Ofsted. In some ways, they come out of it rather well. They gave JeremyVineJonny Scaramaga a good radio billing (BBC iPlayer here, 12/06/2014, 1:09:29 on; a planned TV billing was trumped by the breaking news from Iraq). And their news piece, to which this is a response, gives ample space to ACE’s critics. But how do they describe ACE’s teaching on evolution? As “particularly controversial.” No, it is not “particularly controversial”; it is flat out wrong. And ACE’s  teaching of Young Earth creationism’s imaginative fiction as correct science doesn’t even get a mention, nor does its strange views on how religion relates to politics. But for a broadcaster, as for any journalist, time is limited, so I think we can forgive them. Not so UK’s NARIC, National Academic Recognition Information Centre. All EU states, and many others, have such centres which advise on the value of qualifications obtained in other countries, and other non-standard qualifications, so what they say matters. NARIC UK aroused alarm and dismay by recognizing ACE-based qualifications, and even after public questioning has continue to advise

that, despite the acknowledged differences in modes of learning, the ICCE [International Certificate of Christian Education, keyed to ACE] qualifications compared broadly to CIE [Cambridge Internal Examinations] O and A levels with regard to their learning outcomes and knowledge competencies. …

In particular, as part of this later study some issues were observed with the Biology programme, which were reported back to ICCE with recommendations on the redevelopment of certain aspects of the programme to ensure closer comparability with the academic level of A and O level qualifications. …

As a commissioned report to ICCE, UK NARIC are therefore not in a position to disclose any detailed content without the client’s consent.  However, given the level of interest in the ICCE awards by universities and employers, and with permission from ICCE, an information section on the ICCE qualifications and the ACE curricula has been included in UK NARIC’s International Comparisons database, which may be accessed by registered users.

In other words, they won’t explain the reasons for this decision to the likes of you and me, because this is a study that ICCE paid for. Words fail me. AliceRobertsWhat should now be done? Professor Alice Roberts has suggested that the teaching of creationism be banned in all schools. I see problems here; where in a court of law would you draw the line between teaching about creationism, as is surely appropriate when discussing the history of ideas, and teaching creationism as such? Besides, I have qualms about such close micromanagement of schools outside the public sector, given my opinion (as should be clear from this article) of the quality of management services that Government agencies and their like currently provide. But we can at least stop pretending that it has any merit, stop recognizing schools that practice it, stop accepting it as any kind of qualification, and stop funding all schools including preschools that provide it. Wouldn’t that damage pupils already in the system? Yes it would, but no more than leaving things as they are. I thank my BCSE colleagues, and Jonny Scaramanga, for useful discussions. [1] But even this condition seems to be relaxed nowadays, with the Unitarian Church admitting pagans. [2] For completeness, I should also mention that Christian Education Europe, who market ACE in the UK, have issued a statement to the BBC, in which they say

Our curriculum does point to God as the creator; this is a view we are entitled to hold as there is enough robust debate around the question of evolution/creation within the scientific community itself to make this a valid decision, based on personal choice.

CEENote the multiple confusions between the scientifically neutral idea of God as creator, the existence of robust debate among evolutionary scientists, and the specific claim of anti-scientific creationism. CEE go on to justify this claim by linking to the writings of one Jonathan Sarfati, a Ph.D. chemist who works with Creation Ministries International. The Sarfati material starts with a common misrepresentation of something written in 1929, so often repeated by creationists that I discussed here a few months ago, and goes downhill from there. For my fellow chemists: Sarfati has published on tetraphosphorus tetraselenide. I have published on tetrasulphur tetranitride. Obviously, our paths were meant to cross.

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 June 14, 2014, in Creationism, Education, Politics, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I think the whole discussion is amusing if only that it takes place through a medium, the Internet, that uses principals tested through scientific theory. Discount one, you have to discount the other. In other words, such people are often sitting in front of the very thing which can disprove them.

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  2. Wonderful site. Plenty of useful information here.
    I’m sending it to a few friends ans additionally sharing in delicious.
    And certainly, thanks to your sweat!

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  3. This is not Christian – frankly it’s evil.

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  4. Reblogged this on James's space and commented:
    We do have a serious problem when nonsense is validated as acceptable education. Scientific integrity is essential, this threatens to undermine science education in the UK and abroad. Thanks to Paul for this analysis.

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  5. I listened to the interview. I have some experience with ACE. I honestly did not know it was used outside of the US until I came upon the Leaving Fundamentalism Website. The curriculum is under no circumstance, “good”. I’m baffled at how it couldn be rated as such.

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  6. Although ACE teaches things that are arguably more extreme than even the mainstream young earth creationism of CMI, the ICR and AiG I certainly do not recall many instances in the last four years or so at least of them criticising ACE dogma or teaching methods.

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  7. Paul, literalistic evangelicals were rare in the 60s – virtually none in Christian Unions. Howver after the Evangelical Press republished the Genesis Flood in 1968in the UK it slowly grew and by 1981 hade made headway in then CofE. All in my book Evangelicals and Science

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    • The capitulation of the (or rather, of some) Evangelicals is understandable; John Houghton and the recently expelled Steve Chalke are among the honourable exceptions. The failure of the education authorities to diagnose a malignant metastasising cancer, as in the way Ofsted and NARIC have treated ACE, is without excuse.

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  8. Little did I think in 1971 when I first came across Creationism it would gain such prominencin the UK. What is depressing is that educationists and the mainstream churches ignore the problem

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  9. JSintheStates

    Where is this anti-science movement coming from? These throw-backs are certainly happy with their mobile phones and other electronic wonders! It looks to me as if they prove the point; evolution is a two-way street, and these zealots are devolving!

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    • Where are they coming from? From the US; Young Earth creationism was almost dead in the UK until revived by way of “creation science2, from which this borrows, a US invention, and biblical fundamentalism which is largely a US import but also getting support from home-grown throwback inerrantism.

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    • Definitely from the US, particularly the southern US where I grew up.

      My parents tried to expose me to multiple points of view, and saw no harm in enrolling me in a private Evangelical school that used A Beka and ACE. There was an unforeseen consequence, however.

      Both curricula emphasize that Christian authority figures are Always Right. Both curricula also outright state that you cannot simultaneously believe that the earth is older than 6,000 years and be a Christian. Furthermore, I did not believe anyone was allowed to print any false statements in a textbook. I also knew that my parents were paying a lot of money for me to go to that school–“Why would they do that if they didn’t agree with what’s being taught?”

      I had loads of really good books on human history, astronomy, dinosaurs–all kinds of wonderful science stuff. I watched Bill Nye The Science Guy religiously. But–and this is a very big “but” from my perspective, especially at the time–none of these sources ever mentioned whether any of their authors or creators was Christian. So I assumed they were atheists, because that was the only option left open to me by the ideology promoted in my textbooks.

      My parents had expected me to have questions about the whole YEC thing. But because nobody that I knew to be Christian decried YEC around me, I didn’t think there was a question to be asked. I had no reason to doubt the textbooks, which basically encouraged me NOT to ask questions.

      This meant that I was a YEC until I got to college (a Baptist college, no less!) and the intro to biology teacher looked at me like I’d grown another head when I said that evolution was a lie made up by atheists. Not only did I make myself look like a complete idiot in front of the whole class, I felt betrayed by my school and my parents. I had been taught a lie.

      I suppose it only makes sense that I’m still a bit bitter about this. Schools in the US, the UK, and other countries–some of which are funded by tax dollars!!–are still teaching this dreck, and teaching children that they have a monopoly on truth.

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  1. Pingback: Mid-Week Religion and Skepticism Report | Evangelically Atheist

  2. Pingback: Newsnight tonight | Leaving Fundamentalism

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