18 (now 22) MSPs back motion to rein in creationism in Scottish schools

(I discussed this and related issues at the Humanist Society of Scotland’s Glasgow branch meeting on Sunday 15 February 2015)

 The Parliamentary Motion

S4M-12148: That the Parliament congratulates South Lanarkshire Council on taking decisive action to prevent the teaching of creationism in schools by introducing new guidance; condemns any promotion of creationism in publicly funded schools, including the reported distribution of creationist books at Kirktonholme Primary School; believes that creationism should not be presented as a scientific theory and viable alternative to the established theory of evolution, and supports the Society of Biology and the Scottish Secular Society position in opposing the teaching of creationism in the classroom.

The sponsor

Stewart Maxwell, SNP, West Scotland, Convener of the Education and Culture Committee, to which the Public Petitions Committee has forwarded our Petition.

The supporters

In order of signing: Bill Kidd, SNP, Glasgow Anniesland; Christine Grahame, SNP, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale; Kenneth Gibson, SNP, Cunninghame North; Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Green Party, Glasgow; Rob Gibson, SNP, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross; James Dornan, SNP, Glasgow Cathcart, substitute member, Education and Culture Committee; Richard Simpson, Scottish Labour, Mid Scotland and Fife; David Torrance, SNP, Kirkaldy (so that Spencer Fildes, Scottish Secular Society Chair, and sponsor of our petition, is his constituent), Deputy Convener, Public Petitions Committee; John Finnie, Independent, Highlands and Islands; Alison McInnes, Scottish Liberal Democrats, North East Scotland; Jean Urquhart, Independent, Highlands and Islands; Elaine Murray, Scottish Labour, Dumfriesshire; Joan McAlpine, Scottish National Party, South Scotland; Mary Fee, Scottish National Party, South Scotland; Tavish Scott, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Shetland Islands, substitute member, Education and Culture Committee; Mike MacKenzie, Scottish National Party, Highlands and Islands; Cara Hilton, Scottish Labour, Dunfermline; Claire Baker, Scottish Labour, Mid-Scotland/Fife; John Wilson, Independent, Central Scotland.

Note that support crosses party lines (only one Parliamentary Party is absent), and is strong in areas where creationism might be more of a problem, despite the possible electoral cost of opposing it.

I also note with some pleasure that two of the signatories were present when we gave evidence in favour of our petition.

The Triggers

TruthBeTold (2)The Kirktonholme Scandal, September 2013; all pupils in Assembly given copies of the extreme creationist pseudo-textbook Truth be Told; Exposing the Myth of Evolution,  complete with images of dinosaurs as farmyard animals; for more details, see here and here and here.

The South Lanarkshire guidelines, formulated in the wake of this, ensuring proper supervision of chaplains, application of Curriculum for Excellence standards to their input, and school management accountability for their actions

The Scottish Secular Society petition, PE01530, now referred from the Public Petitions Committee to the Education and Culture Committee, as we had hoped. Petition Abstract (shown here yet again because of repeated real or affected misunderstanding):

Spencer and I giving evidence to the Parliamentary Petitions Committee (from Parliament website)

 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.

Nothing more. No legislation needed, no attacks on religion, no restriction of discussion; only a ban on misrepresenting long-refuted doctrines as viable.

The letter of support, referred to in the Parliamentary Motion, from the Society of Biology:

Re: PE01530 – Guidance on how creationism is presented in schools

I am writing on behalf of the Society of Biology, the single unified body for biology across the UK, as such we cover biological sciences and the teaching of biology in schools and universities. Our vision is to be recognised as the body responsible for supporting biologists and presenting their views in both public funding and policy debates and discussions of professional, procedural and societal matters. The Society
actively supports developments in schools across the UK; in Scotland this has been particularly as a core member of the Learned Societies’ Group on Scottish Science Education1 . We are therefore writing to convey our view on the proposal to offer Scottish schools guidance on the teaching of evolution and creationism in the science curriculum. As the voice of biology we advocate that biological evolution (together with the geological and astrophysical evidence on the history of the earth and universe) forms a core component of the biological sciences and as such should be taught in biology lessons, alongside the importance of an evidence-based approach to understanding our world. In contrast, creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas are not based on scientific evidence and therefore should not be taught in the context of a science class or presented as scientific theory.

We recognise that questions regarding creationism and intelligent design may arise in the classroom, for example as a result of individual faith and beliefs or media coverage. When such topics arise in a science class there are opportunities to explain or explore why creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories. We encourage the Scottish Government to follow the strategy taken in other nations of the United Kingdom to provide clear guidance to schools and the teaching community stating explicitly that creationism and intelligent design are not considered to be scientific theories based on tested hypotheses, and therefore should not be taught in science lessons. Furthermore we urge the Scottish Government to provide teachers with appropriate training opportunities to develop the skills to answer controversial questions posed in science lessons in a clear and sensitive manner.

Biology matters: our future food supply depends on it. (Illustration from Society of Biology website)

I regard that last sentence as particularly important. Teachers may well shy away from questions of this kind because of embarrassment at their lack of knowledge of how to deal with them (in the US, according to research published in Science, this is a problem even in the biology classroom). We would assume that in Scotland all specialist biology teachers will be well versed in evolution as part of their training, and hope that this is also true for other primary or secondary teachers dealing with the life sciences. We also think that science teachers need to be aware that creationism has no right to speak for religions, or indeed for any individual religion, as a whole, while all Religious and Moral Education teachers should be aware that creationism and what calls itself “Intelligent Design” have been thoroughly refuted.

We await further developments.

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 January 31, 2015, in Creationism, Education, Politics, Scotland and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I echo Katie Vickers. Your work is appreciated on both sides of the Atlantic.

    only one Parliamentary Party is absent

    Oh, do tell! Tories or UKIP?

    Like

  2. Thank you very much for the work you’ve done and are doing on this; it’s hugely important and appreciated.

    Like

  1. Pingback: Keeping creationism out of Scottish schools; the long, long paper trail | Eat Your Brains Out; Exploring Science, Exposing Creationism

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