Scottish schools: we don’t invite antivaxxers so we shouldn’t invite antievolutionists

There is still time to sign the petition calling on the Scottish Government to give this badly needed guidance:

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

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Maurice Hilleman’s measles vaccine is estimated to prevent 1 million deaths every year (Washington Post obituary, April 13, 2005)

We don’t invite antivaxxers into our schools to present their “alternative point of view”. That is because what they say is untrue, yet dangerously persuasive, as shown by the re-emergence, thanks to them, of diseases such as measles that, in the industrialised nations at least, were almost extinct. No school would dream of hosting a debate between an antivaxxer and an immunologist, inviting pupils to make up their own minds. Nor would any school invite a group convinced of the wickedness of vaccination to send activity-filled buses. To do any such thing would totally undermine important teaching about health. The antivaxxers may complain that this is unfair, because although in a free society they have every right to express their point of view. Too bad; freedom of speech does not include the right to demand a platform, least of all the authoritative platform of a school assembly hall, and we do not give them that because they don’t deserve it.

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From Truth be Told; Exposing the Myth of Evolution, distributed to all pupils at Kirktonholme Primary, near Glasgow, September 2013

Yet this is exactly the way that we treat anti-evolutionists, whether they call themselves Creationists, Creation Scientists, Biblical Christians, or Intelligent Design advocates. It is almost impossible to determine the extent to which such creationism has influenced classroom teaching, especially as many Local Authorities regard the identity and affiliation of school chaplains as protected confidential information for Freedom of Information Act purposes. However, we note with alarm that the extreme anti-science West Mains Church was allowed to operate for eight years without question, that the Challenger Bus, which carries literature from Answers in Genesis, makes regular visits to many schools, and that at least two schools have organised debates or Q&A sessions with creationist speakers, thus placing creationism on an equal footing with scientific reality.

According to the website of PWAMM (People with a Mission Ministries), whose Challenger Buses pay regular visits to Scottish schools, and who sell Answers magazine, a publication of Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis,

The purpose of Answers magazine is to illustrate the importance of Genesis in building a creation-based worldview, and to equip readers with practical answers so they can confidently communicate the gospel and biblical authority with accuracy and graciousness.

“The purpose of Answers magazine is to illustrate the importance of Genesis in building a creation-based worldview”

PWAMM also offers schools materials for Religious and Moral Education, dealing with such questions as “what Christians believe the Bible is” (Primary) and “Information about the Bible; multimedia presentation summarising what Christians believe” (Secondary). I do not think it unreasonable to wonder whether these materials promote “a creation-based worldview”, with all that that implies, and how far they do justice to the wealth of Christian interpretations of the Bible, beyond mere blinkered literalism.

Present Scottish Government policy is to leave these things to the discretion of individual teachers. This is to place an impossible burden on them, especially as creationist utterances are liable to come from chaplains, who are not part of the teaching establishment, and may be put forward in contexts such as Religious Observance where they could hardly be challenged, or as part of professionally prepared packages for RME. Creationists are plausible, and well practiced in presenting their arguments. They commonly make direct factual claims, based on spurious science, which pupils (or indeed teachers without a background in biology) will not recognise as the untruths that they are. The creationist tactic is to pretend that their point of view as having an equal claim to be heard, thus appealing to reasonableness and fair play, and to maintain that the kind of policy sought in this petition is an unfair restriction of free speech. We would not accept such an argument from those who deny the benefits of vaccination, or the historical fact of the Holocaust, or that the Earth spins on its axis, and should not accept it from those who deny the reality of evolution either.

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 August 23, 2014, in Charles Darwin, Creationism, Education, Politics, Religion, Scotland and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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