Historian geologist school governor priest writes supporting petition against creationism in Scots schools
how creationism should be handled in schools, we can assume he knows what is talking about. And the Scottish Secular Society therefore particularly appreciates his backing of our petition seeking guidance to prevent creationism and Young Earth pseudoscience being taught as fact in Scottish state schools:
This petition closes on September 3, so there is still time to join the Rev Michael, three Nobel Prize scientists, and numerous others in showing your support. As to why you should do so, I cannot do better than let Michael speak for himself:
The vast age of the universe and the earth has been known since the 18th century, and evolution since 1859 or earlier, and thus no science makes sense without these facts. Any worldview which rejects them must clearly be seen as false, including Creationism with its denial of such basic and well-proven science. In the 19th century Scots Presbyterians were in the forefront of accepting both deep time and evolution, from Thomas Chalmers to Henry Drummond, to name but two.
In the past few decades, a strain of thought, variously known as creationism, creation science, flood geology, and Intelligent Design, has arisen, challenging these plain facts. This resurgent creationism has its roots in Seventh Day Adventism, but has now spread to more main-stream churches. Proponents of such creationism are well organised, well funded, and represented by such groups as Creation Science Ministries, Creation ministries International, Truth in Science, and Answers in Genesis, as well as the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, and its Glasgow-based offshoot Centre for Intelligent Design, which may allow for an ancient earth but not evolution.
There has also been an influx of US-based (and occasionally Australia-based) fundamentalist churches, such as West Mains Church, East Kilbride (responsible for the distribution of creationist texts at Kirktonholme), Westwoodhill Evangelical Church (with representatives on the chaplaincy committees of five schools in South Lanarkshire), Craighalbert Church (providing the chaplain for four schools in North Lanarkshire), and Freedom City Church (also North Lanarkshire). In addition, Seventh Day Adventists are also represented on school chaplaincy teams, as are more traditional churches (Baptist, various Presbyterians denominations) that are often influenced by creationism.
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, in addition to the reasons for concern listed above, 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.
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. Creationists are plausible, and well practice 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 present 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 in the case of Holocaust denial (or even climate change denial), and should not accept it in the case of evolution denial or old earth denial either.
Rev Michael Roberts, M.A., F.R.Hist.S on behalf of the British Centre for Science Education
Michael has posted an interesting and informative commentary on his submission on his own website. He reminds us that Young Earth creationism was a minority view among Christian churches by the mid-19th century, and that Christians had generally accepted evolution by around 1880. The anti-scientific creationism, and grotesque imaginings of “creation science” and “flood geology”, have their roots in Seventh Day Adventism and have only become at all prominent in more mainstream churches since 1960.
Much that Michael refers to will already be all too familiar to my readers (see e.g. here and here and here), and creationist activities in schools, even before the Kirktonholme scandal, were among the factors leading to the formation of the Scottish Secular Society. Readers will also know of the presence of unelected representatives of religion on the Local Authority Education Committees to which teachers are answerable, and that these are on occasion known to be extreme creationists.
There are some other features that I would mention. Creationism in the UK is closely linked to groups based in the US. Evolution denial is linked to climate change denial, both of which you will find on websites advocating Intelligent Design, and that this is not perhaps surprising when one considers their ultimate sources of finance. It is also worth noting that while the Intelligent Design movement in the US is associated mainly with Old Earth creationism, it has been notably promoted in the UK by Young Earth creationists, and has close links to the Orwellian-titled organisation, Truth in Science, whose distribution of creationist materials to schools led directly to the formation in 2006 of the British Centre for Science Education.
Michael also touches briefly on the question of quasi-compulsory Religious Observance in schools, and the resulting potential for abuse. This was the subject of Scottish Secular Society’s earlier petition, which led to formal reiteration of the oft-neglected guidelines and, more importantly, forced the opening up of debate, across the entire faith spectrum from Calvinists to Humanists, regarding the role of RO. This is just one facet of Scotland’s current process of self examination, which will continue whatever the result of the Referendum ballot.
And we expect the current petition to achieve no less.