Monthly Archives: May 2015
Fortunately, Edgar Nernberg of Calgary is a keen Young Earth Creationist, and indeed sits on the board of Alberta’s very own Creation Museum, at nearby Big Valley. Fortunately, because this has given him a keen interest in fossils, and a sharp eye for spotting them.
So when he came across something out of the ordinary while backhoeing out a basement in Calgary, he immediately recognised it as important. What he had found was a group of five small fossil fish, a few inches long, embedded in the 60 million year old sandstone of Alberta’s Paskapoo Formation. Fossils from this time are rare, and give insight into what was happening directly after the dinosaurs and their marine relatives were so dramatically removed from their ecological niches. For this reason, the specimens are regarded as among the most important local find in decades, and will be displayed in Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum.
How, you may wonder, does Nernberg explain the existence of fossils 10,000 times older than what he regards as the age of the Earth? No problem. They are, he tells us, exactly what you would have expected as one of the results of Noah’s Flood. And how else would you explain away fossilised fish, one thousand miles inland, embedded in sandstone? (Actually, fluvial sandstone, not marine, and rich in terrestrial plant fossils, but let that pass.) As for their geologically and radiometrically determined ages, we can be sure that he will be able to give you many reasons for rejecting these, all bad. Like numerous others, including Ken Ham and Scotland’s own Nagy Iskander, he maintains that creation scientists and conventional (i.e. real) scientists have different starting assumptions. So while they accept the same fundamental data, they disagree as to how these data are to be interpreted.
As Winston Churchill is said to have remarked, men occasionally stumble over truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. Why should a creationist be any different?
On May 12, the Education and Culture Committing of the Scottish Parliament formally closed consideration of the Scottish Secular Society’s petition, as having run its course. This petition sought guidance to exclude creationism from Scotland’s publicly funded schools. The Committee had asked the Scottish Government to clarify its position, and in his reply the Minister responsible had finally brought himself to say that creationism should not be taught in science classes. For more on the year-long process that led to this point, see here and here.
The Herald story itself remains top of the “most read” list at time of writing, after 5 days, and has attracted 57,000 on-site Likes.
To my surprise, the story has gathered international attention. A story in The Independent (does that count as international? Are England and Scotland part of the same nation? Do not attempt to answer this question here. The same comment applies to a summary by the London-based National Secular Society.) A report from our good friends at the California-based National Center for Science Education; also from Patheos. Favourable comment from Russia Today. An interview on The Sceptic’s Guide to the Universe, the leading US podcast of its kind (episode #516, about half way through; 100,000 downloads).
And a story on I Freaking Love Science , whose FaceBook posting had earned 292,706 Likes, 38,006 Shares, and 9,754 comments in its first 24 hours. A followup hostile letter in The Herald, May 31, notable for the comments it drew which were the very opposite of what the writer was hoping for; a report on that letter by The Sensuous Curmudgeon, a widely read and superficially facetious but in fact well-informed critic of Creationists. A further commentary in the Herald on June 2 by Andrew Denholm, Education Correspondent, who celebrates a victory for common sense, while denying that anything has happened. (I will add details here if yet more stories appear about the Petition.)
So what has happened, and why does it matter? What has happened is that the Scottish Government has moved from merely saying that creationism is not part of the syllabus, to saying that it should not be taught in science classes. A shift from “need not” to “must not”. In terms of mechanical application of the rules, no real change. In terms of framing and context, pivotal. If Creationism is not scientific in the science class, how can it be scientific elsewhere?
In the course of its submission to the Scottish Parliament regarding our petition, the Society for Biology commented:
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…. [W]e 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.
Quite so. But why only in science lessons? Creationism is, and should be, regularly discussed in Scottish schools, not in the context of science, but in that of Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies (RMPS).
As most readers will know, “Creation Scientists” and Intelligent Design proponents want to claim scientific respectability for the doctrine of separate special creation. The Government’s new position will make it far harder for them to do so. Nonetheless, it would run counter to the entire spirit of RMPS for instructors to tell students what to think. So teachers, who may themselves have had little formal training in biology, have to convey quite detailed evidence in such a way that students can come to their own well-informed conclusions. My colleagues and I are putting together materials that all those involved in these classes might find helpful, and would appreciate suggestions.
1] Filter-protected version of the real name
The petition is closed. It has done its work, and I’m impressed by the process. Creationism may not be taught in science classes; and we already have the Minister’s statement in Parliament that in other classes, where appropriate, it should be discussed but not promoted. It has been a long and tortuous process, so I have collected here links to the key documents, and to the more than 60 press reports I know of.
Attention will now inevitably shift to Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies, where Creationism is (and should be) one of the topics selected for in-depth study. The evidence in favour of evolution is conclusive, yet Creationists deny this, and RMPS laudably shies away from telling students what to think. How do we cut this Gordian knot? And how best do we help RMPS teachers without any formal instruction in biology, when they face the specious pseudoscience of the Intelligent Designers?
More on this in due course. Meantime, the story so far:
Official documents, petition details, public comments:
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.
That’s all! NB: No need for legislation; a simple Ministerial or departmental statement would suffice. No distinction between science and non-science classes, and no suggestion of preventing discussion of such ideas, as long as they are not presented as viable alternatives to known science.
And what happened? In brief, exceptional public interest (see this list); two hearings before the Public Petitions Committee (as one of which Spencer Fildes, as petitioner and Chair of the Scottish Secular Society, and I as scientific adviser to the Society, gave evidence); referral by that Committee to the Education and Culture Committee; a request from that committee to the Scottish Government to respond to the issues we had raised; a Ministerial response that went some way towards what we had asked for; and formal closure.
And much more besides; see here. The issue is no longer hidden, the prerogative of the most unenlightened to do whatever they want in name of religion has been challenged and to some extent limited; and the genie is out of the bottle.
And so it ends, not with a bang, but a quiet sigh of satisfaction.
Petition site and comments: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/creationismguidance
BBC recording of hearing; Spencer Fildes and Paul Braterman give evidence to Public Petitions Committee http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/scotland-30004391
Or SSS version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi0RD3VAR1I
Official report of the second hearing by the Public Petitions Committee at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9759&i=89401
Official reports of the hearings by the Education and Culture Committee at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9836&i=90184#ScotParlOR and http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9951.
Press coverage: live links supplied where possible. Headline where different from link. Commentary as I saw fit:
(Additional post-May 24 2015 coverage at https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/scottish-victory-over-creationism-gets-300000-fb-likes-international-attention-what-next/)
Independent, 27 May: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/creationism-should-not-be-taught-in-schools-says-scottish-education-minister-10279509.html (quotes me as “delighted”)
[US] National Center for Science Education, reporting on Herald 24 May story: http://ncse.com/news/2015/05/update-from-scotland-0016382 Also reported on by IFLScience, http://www.iflscience.com/environment/creationism-banned-science-classes-scottish-government and Russian RT agency http://rt.com/uk/262377-scotland-snp-creationism-classrooms/ May 27
Herald 24 May 2015 http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/scottish-government-creationism-banned-from-science-class.126976076 Quotes the crucial new language (emphasis added) “Guidance provided by Education Scotland, set out in the ‘Principles and Practice’ papers and the ‘Experiences and Outcomes’ documentation for each of the eight curriculum areas does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons.”
Herald 15 May 2015: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/creationist-teaching-just-around-the-corner-in-scottish-schools.126123235 Denholm, still spinning (see also his November 21 article, below), reports the Education and Culture Committee as agreeing that no new guidance was necessary (not noticing that new guidance had just been issued).
Evening Express 2 May 2015: http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/news/scotland/creationism-science-ban-bid-slammed/ Channelling David Andrew Robertson
Free Church News 18 March: http://freechurch.org/news/scotlands-science-minister-no-need-for-ban-on-creationism-in-schools Scotland’s Science minister: No need for ban on creationism in schools
Forbes Magazine 30 Dec 2014: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2014/12/30/creationism-in-europe-you-bet/ Reviewing Creationism in Europe (Johns Hopkins Press) writes:
As scientist blogger Paul Braterman reports on events in Scotland (https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/ok-to-teach-creationism-in-context-says-scottish-government/), this [introducing ID in schools]could prove to be a successful strategy.
Scotsman 27 Dec 2014: http://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/letters/test-the-word-1-3644430  Richard Lucas of SOLAS advocates debates about the truth of creationism: ”Or are aggressive atheists afraid that evolution, an indispensable foundation of their belief system, might not stand up to open debate in our educational institutions?”
Herald [Glasgow] 26 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/inside-track-reporting-with-dinosaurs.115054081 A hostile commentary.
Herald 26 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/inside-track-reporting-with-dinosaurs.115054081Herald 1 December: Letters; Bob Downie reiterates support for keeping religion, science separated. Garry Otton repeats scope of petition.
Scotsman 26 Dec: http://www.scotsman.com/news/biology-teachers-need-more-guidance-1-3643988 To my surprise, the statement I gave them was printed intact as an article. I referred to the strongly supportive statement at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/General%20Documents/PE1530_DD_Society_of_Biology_10.11.14.pdf from the Society of Biology, the UK’s largest professional association of biologists, which states:
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.
I mentioned that this had not been available as it should have been to the Committee and to the Government when considering the responses to our petition, and invited the Government to think again. I also drew attention to the need to provide appropriate training, especially to non-science teachers, as it is within a religious rather than a scientific context that problems are likely to arise.
Answers in Genesis 23 Dec: http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/12/23/scottish-government-rejects-creation-ban/. Ken Ham writes:
[T]eachers in Scotland still have the freedom to present the problems with evolution and millions of years as well as possibly present other alternatives, such as biblical creation, to their students. This is a victory for academic freedom in that country. Sadly, the secularists were trying to protect the teaching of their atheistic religion as the only worldview imposed on the current and future generations of kids.
Ham’s good friend, Dr Nagy Iskander of South Lanarkshire’s education Committee, is, we know, very keen on teaching alternatives:
Herald 21 Dec: Teaching with dinsoaurs http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/teaching-with-dinosaurs.26133681
When it comes to Scotland’s culture wars, many would view this last week as a catastrophe for the Scottish Secular Society (SSS), and a success for the country’s religious fundamentalists
but facing it on the next page http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/call-for-debate-on-religious-privilege.26133800 has SNP Councillor Sandy Howat questioning, on behalf of many SNP members, creationist teaching, opt-out rather than opt-in Religious Observance, and the presence of unelected representatives of religion on Council Education Committees.
Herald, 16 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/schools-creationism-ban-rejected-by-scottish-government.114739893 The Government response to our petition, http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/General%20Documents/PE1530_BB_Scottish_Government_15.12.14.pdf stated
…there are no plans to issue guidance to schools or education authorities to prevent the presentation of Creationism, Intelligent Design or similar doctrines by teachers or school visitors. The evidence available suggests that guidance on these matters is unnecessary. However, Education Scotland will continue to monitor, through the school inspection process and by other means, any instances where schools are not ensuring the teaching of science is based on well-established science and scientific principles.
Spencer Fildes comments
The fear is that creationists will now use the government’s position to further validate the cause of creationism, young earth doctrines and the pseudo-science of intelligent design.
as happened very promptly; see notes on Dec 23, above, and I comment:
This [the Government’s] language blurs the crucial distinction, built into the wording of our own petition, between learning about creationist worldviews, and being taught that such worldviews are tenable. The SSS fear this will bring Scottish education into disrepute.
I note that the Government response was over the signature of a civil servant,not a Minister, and wonder if they are already aware that they may be asked to thinkagain. Of course, the Government’s view is not binding on the Committee, which can make, although it cannot enforce, its own recommendations.
Herald 1 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/adopt-the-american-model-for-our-schools.25879090 Letters; Bob Downie reiterates support for keeping religion, science separated. Garry Otton repeats scope of petition.
Herald 28 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/respect-of-parents-rights-in-respect-of-education.25989631 Letter, Hugh McLoughlin, says we don’t explain what we mean by creationism, invokes European Convention on Human Rights
Herald 27 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/should-creationism-and-evolution-be-taught-side-by-side-in-the-school-classroom.25979445 letters. Among other things, corrects Rev David Fraser, states “The EIS position is that teachers can be trusted to conduct themselves professionally without the need for legislation.”
Herald 26 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/secularists-only-want-to-keep-religious-teaching-in-churches.25966308 Letter attacking Dvd Fraser’s defence of creationist teaching.
Herald 25 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/secularists-need-science-lessons.25959745 Rev David Fraser
I think most of us have had enough of the aggressive and perverse campaign against free speech by the Scottish Secular Society … Our leaders need follow the robust example of the EIS and defend the rights of the majority for the expression of their faith across the spectrum of school subjects.
Herald 24 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/teachers-reject-creationism-ban.25940642 Unnamed EIS spokesperson(s) condemn our petition. Herald reporter once again confuses the teaching of separate creation (the subject of our petition) with the idea of God as Creator, discussion of which we explicitly defend.
Herald 23 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/scotlands-culture-war-secularists-and-church-head-to-head.25941169 Scotland’s culture war: secularists and church head-to-head. A wide-ranging review by Judith Duffy.
Herald 22 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/a-mccarthyite-campaign.25937147 : In response to Spencer’s remarks to the Herald on November 21, the Reverend David Robertson accuses us of a McCarthyite campaign and anti-religious paranoia
Record, 21 Nov: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/alasdair-allan-says-complete-confidence-2826128 Alasdair Allan says he has complete confidence in Scottish teachers following creationism debate
21 Nov, The Centre for Intelligent Design warns those on its mailing list: Government to impose Scientism on our children http://www.c4id.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=262:government-to-impose-scientism-on-our-children&catid=52:frontpage&Itemid=1 So now you know. The Centre regards evolution science and the study of the age of the Earth as forms of Scientism, whatever that may be.
Herald, 21 Nov, reports on submission made to the Petitions Committee by Ken Cunningham is Secretary of School Leaders Scotland: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/banning-creationism-lessons-is-dangerous-warn-headteachers.25925821 My comment:
Not Head Teachers; one ex-Head [in consultation, he later claimed, with the Association’s presidential team, whoever they may be] speaking for all his members with no further apparent mandate from his Association’s membership. And Cunningham and Noble [Director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, whose plans to promulgate creationism are a major matter of concern to us] are not as reported both members of the Free Church of Scotland; they are Elders (Cunningham also Secretary) of the same small independent Church, Cartsbridge in Busby, with a total membership of around 250; a much closer association. As usual this reporter, Andrew Denholm, misdescribes what we plainly said we meant by creationism.
See also commentary “Creationist Manoeuvres in the Dark” http://secularspen.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/creationist-manoeuvres-in-the-dark/ by Spencer Fildes, who has done more than any one to unmask the concealed connections.
Premier News (a Creationist Christian radio channel), 20 Nov: http://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/Scotland-s-teachers-oppose-secularist-attempt-to-ban-creationism Again, the reference is to Ken Cunningham’s submission to the Public Petitions Committee, but here he is said to speak for “Scotland’s teachers”.
Scotsman 18 Nov: http://www.scotsman.com/news/beware-the-trojan-horses-of-intolerance-1-3609240 The Reverend David Andrew Robertson, at that time Moderator-Intellect of the Free Church of Scotland, says Scottish Secular Society wants legislation against “teachers who might actually believe that God the Creator might have had something to do with creation.”
Christian News 17 Nov objects to banning the teaching of biblical creationism as fact: http://christiannews.net/2014/11/17/secular-group-seeks-to-ban-biblical-creation-from-public-schools-in-scotland/ (I continue to be amazed at the arrogance of those, like the authors of this article, who claim a monopoly of Christianity on the basis of their boneheadedly ignorant interpretation of its foundational documents.)
Herald 14 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/a-danger-of-state-atheism.25869067 Correspondence arising from Andrew Denholm’s misrepresentation on 12 Nov.; see below
Times Educational Supplement Scotland 14 Nov: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6450346 Schools are being infiltrated by cults, say secularists
12 Nov NCSE ([US] National Centre for Science Education] News Update from Scotland http://ncse.com/news/2014/11/update-from-scotland-0015982
‘Religious extremists infiltrating schools’ This otherwise excellent article includes the statement “Creationism is the belief that the universe and living beings originate from acts of divine creation.” Not in this context. Our petition specifically refers to separate creationism is opposed to the established science of evolution. Although our opponents pretend otherwise, it has nothing to do with religious or philosophical positions regarding creation as a whole.
Aberdeen Evening Express 11 Nov: http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/news/scotland/msps-warned-on-schools-creationism-1.677358
[Glasgow] Evening Times 11 Nov: http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/u/msps-warn-on-school-creationism.1415707018 [“warn” for “warned” is a typo]
STV News 11 Nov http://m.stv.tv/news/scotland/299236-scottish-secular-societys-petition-discusses-creationism-teaching/ Teaching of creationism in schools ‘cannot be ignored’, MSPs told
Good Morning Scotland 11 Nov https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyo89F5CGTQ Spencer Fildes interviewed
Sunday Times 9 Nov: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/Education/article1481607.ece MSPs to rule on creationism row
Press and Journal 9 Nov: https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/politics/holyrood/395263/row-over-religious-education-in-schools/ echoing Scotsman of 7 Nov
Freethinker 8 Nov: http://freethinker.co.uk/2014/11/08/scottish-secularists-branded-as-bigots/ Reporting DAR
Scotsman 7 Nov: http://www.scotsman.com/news/education/bid-to-ban-creationism-is-militant-atheism-1-3597863 Campaigners bidding to ban schools from teaching creationism in science lessons are “militant atheists” who want to impose their own views on youngsters and discourage questioning, a church leader has claimed. Reverend David Robertson…
(Interestingly, when preaching to Ken Cunningham, mentioned above, and Alastair Noble at Cartsbridge Evangelical Church, the Reverend shows full awareness that many of us are religious believers. Maybe he takes the Ninth Commandment more seriously when he is actually in church.)
Premier Christian Radio 7 Nov: http://www.premierchristianradio.com/News/UK/Scottish-church-leader-condemns-petition-to-axe-creationism-teaching
Herald 4 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/topic-of-the-week-intelligent-design.25812362 A selection of letters
Herald 2 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/anger-over-move-to-teach-intelligent-design-in-schools.25756300 Introduces the topic
Answers in Genesis Sept 12 2014: https://answersingenesis.org/theory-of-evolution/in-schools/academic-freedom-under-fire-scotland/
SecEd September 11 2014: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/news/nobel-winners-fight-the-teaching-of-creationism
Answers in Genesis Sept 7 2014: https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/09/07/nobel-winning-scientists-push-for-ban-of-creation-in-scottish-schools/
My own most relevant blog posts
Nov 10: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/the-battle-for-evolution-in-scottish-schools/ (reblogged from Jonny Scaramanga’s Leaving fundamentalism)
 Most recent first. Links made explicit, for ease of reference and copying. We would welcome notification of any coverage we have missed. NB this post refers only to coverage directly relevant to our petition PE01530
Not my area, but I take this personally. My children’s favourite aunt had lung cancer.
TOBACCO giant Philip Morris is to launch the biggest corporate compensation case in history against the UK and Scottish Governments over the decision to impose plain packaging on cigarettes.
Legal papers are expected to be presented today or early next week seeking between £9 billion and £11bn. Other tobacco companies are expected to follow suit.
Their argument is that the planned imposition of plain packaging, by preventing them from using their very valuable brand image, is a “deprivation of property”, and what is human life, after all, compared with property?
A similar case has already failed in Australia, but not before holding up plain packaging for a year, during which more young people became addicted to cigarettes. And that judgment can’t be used to shortcircuit the case, because the wording of Australian property law is different from that of both English and Scottish law. It will have to be argued all over again, and more teenagers will get addicted in the meantime, so that the decision to sue makes good financial sense for Philip Morris, even though they are going to lose.
Here’s my answer. Get the best medical advice on the number of excess deaths caused in the United Kingdom by smoking, multiply that by the rule-of-thumb number used by agencies such as NICE to represent how much it’s worth the Government spending to save a human life, add the cost of the NHS of treating smoking-related diseases, and sue the bastards right back.
And why stop there? The tobacco companies are knowingly indulging in behaviour that causes death. Isn’t that homicide? And then we have extradition treaties to summon them before our courts to answer such a charge? What are we waiting for?
An excellent summary. But I think that Michael is being naive when he suggests that if we get people to accept the geology, the biology will look after itself.
This may be true in the UK, where the creationists and ID supporters are thinly disguised, or even open, Young Earth creationists, but most of those at the Discovery Institute in the US are Old Earth creationists, and the creationists themselves have a remarkable ability to ignore such minor disagreements.
The most valuable part of this post is, in my view, the historical analysis; most of us accept the creationists’ claim to be the inheritors of ancient Christian tradition, whereas the creationism that now confronts us is a mid-20th century heresy, with its roots in Seventh Day Adventism and, before them, the Millerites.
And Michael will forgive me, I’m sure, for dissenting from the God bits.
CREATIONISM ON THE ROCKS
A GEOLOGICAL LOOK AT CREATIONISM
Monkey Business at School
Creationism just doesn’t seem to go away and at present poor Scotland is having to deal with it with attempts to outlaw it after the Lanark fiasco when creationist books were sent home. This is the book and an illustration. some parents went ape!!
And so it crops up at regular intervals through the United Kingdom, as it has done since the Emmanuel affair in 2002.
In the last four decades Creationism has caused controversy in American churches, schools and colleges and hits the headlines when education boards question the teaching of evolution as happens in almost every state in the Union. When I taught geology at Wheaton College in America in 2001 half of my ten geology students were sure the earth was created in 6 days – at least at the beginning of the course. Finding…
View original post 7,307 more words
Guidance provided by Education Scotland… does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons ….
I am aware of concerns you have previously expressed about Creationism being taught in 3 schools in Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and Midlothian… . Education Scotland will, however, continue to monitor this through the independent inspection process, and other on-going engagement with practitioners and schools, including with science teachers, and address any issues that arise [emphasis added].
Alasdair Allan, Minister for Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages, to Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee, April 22 2015, in response to Scottish Secular Society petition (full text of letter attached at end of this post).
A tipping point.
This in response to the events set in chain by the Scottish Secular Society’s Petition
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.
As recently as December 2014, the Scottish Government’s official position stopped short of giving any guidance at all about the teaching of Creationism in science classes, on the grounds that such things should be left to teachers, and to bodies such as Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, rather than being dealt with by the Government as such. Now we have, at last, a clear statement from the responsible minister that Creationism should not be taught as science. This U-turn is concealed by the use of the word “therefore”. The Minister has now given the guidance that we sought. How does he reconcile this with the principle of governmental non-intervention in the curriculum? By implying that he is not stating a new position, but one that had been implicit in Education Scotland’s guidance all along.
I think supporters of science over superstition should be willing to accept this polite fiction. The Scottish parliamentary petition process, far superior to that at Westminster, has worked exactly as it should. A handful of individuals, with no external resources, have been able to force discussion of a politically uncomfortable topic at ministerial level. The Minister, doggedly defending the status quo, has tacitly recognise that all was not well, and, while explicitly refraining from issuing new guidance, has issued new guidance. The necessary commitment to teachers’ independence (see full text of letter below) has been displayed, in the very act of instructing them how to use it. All parties can claim victory, and I for one am left with an enhanced respect to that most maligned of professions, the politician.
In addition, the Government’s December 2014 position was that no cause for concern had been shown. Now, however, the Minister shows awareness of concerns involving’s three separate Education Authorities (there are more). In this new context, the reference to monitoring through inspection moves from poorly concealed denialism to active commitment.
Our Petition, having made its way through the Public Petitions Committee and been twice considered by the Education and Culture Committee, has now been formally closed. In the words of the Convener of the latter committee as stated in the official record,
One of the concerns that I raised was not about the banning of discussions of such philosophies and ideas in schools but about the possible intrusion of creationism into science classes. In the minister’s letter—which I will quote to ensure that it is in the Official Report—he has helpfully pointed out:
“Guidance provided by Education Scotland, set out in the ‘Principles and Practice’ papers and the ‘Experiences and Outcomes’ documentation for each of the 8 curriculum areas does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons.”
The Government could not have made that any clearer, and I am therefore in accord with other members that, in light of the Government’s letter, we should close the petition.
So what have we achieved? Far more than I would have imagined possible.
- Over 600 signatures, including three Nobel prize winners.
- Strong letters of support from many bodies, including the Society for Biology, and the British Centre for Science Education, and from a wide range of highly qualified individuals, including professors, schoolteachers, and clergymen.
- Widespread public discussion of what had been until then almost a non-issue, with a total of more than 60 reports in every major newspaper in Scotland and many far beyond.
- An amazing piece of self-exposure from Glasgow’s Centre for Intelligent Design, rapidly identified by the British Centre for Science Education as Creationist in its claims that macroevolution is contentious, and that the accepted science of evolution does not account for the origin of novelty
- Greatly heighten public awareness, and an end to the pretence that such outrageous incidents as that at Kirktonholme were rarer and isolated events. (Regular readers will know that at Kirktonholme, books handed out in school assembly showed dinosaurs being used as farm animals, and said that the reason for belief in evolution was the wish to justify personal wickedness.)
- A motion in the Scottish Parliament, signed by 22 Members (out of a total of around 100 eligible to sign), saying
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.
(Happily, the time when South Lanarkshire was struggling with its response, concerning which more here, to the Kirktonholme scandal corresponded to the time when our petition was attracting maximum publicity.)
- And finally, this critical shift from merely saying that Creationism is not in the syllabus, to saying that it should not be taught as part of science lessons.
There remains much cause for concern about how Creationism is presented in Religions, Moral, and Philosophical Studies (RMPS) classes in Scotland. It is the laudable goal of RMPS to encourage pupils to make up their own minds between competing positions, but what if one of the positions, with many adherents in some parts of Scotland, is flat out wrong? It is difficult to maintain that an error-laden account of who we are and where we came from can be acceptable in RMPS, when it has been specifically excluded from the science classroom. The Creationist position cannot be discussed without presenting it, but how should we respond to a current textbook that states as a strength of Intelligent Design “Strong scientific arguments for the arguments properly researched according to scientific method,” none of which is true (in the context of the petition, see here and here; for more criticism see here)? Alasdair Allan has said in Parliament that Creationism should be discussed but not promoted, but where is the boundary between discussion and promotion? More on this in due course.
Text of Ministerial letter:
Mr Stewart Maxwell MSP
Education and Culture Committee
The Scottish Parliament
22 April 2015
Thank you for your letter of 18 March 2015 about the Education and Culture Committee’s consideration of Petition PE1530 from the Scottish Secular Society. I will reply to the points you have raised in turn:
Scottish Government position on Petition PE1530
Thank you for the opportunity to summarise the Scottish Government’s position on Petition PE1530, as was set out in the Learning Directorate’s letter of 15 December 2014 to the Public Petitions Committee.
While teachers will undoubtedly hold a wide range of views and opinions on religious, ethical and other matters, there are a number of safeguards already in place that are designed to ensure young people receive a balanced education. These include; a robust and independent school inspection regime, the positive influence on school life of Parent Councils, education authority and school management team oversight of what is being taught and presented within the school as a whole, a robust complaints process that is set out in statute, and an independent body established to set the professional standards expected of all teachers — the General Teaching Council of Scotland.
Guidance provided by Education Scotland, set out in the “Principles and Practice” papers and the “Experiences and Outcomes” documentation for each of the 8 curriculum areas does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons.
As you know the non-statutory curriculum is a long-standing feature of Scottish education. The difficulty of putting in place a ban for a specific issue, like Creationism in science, is that there will inevitably be calls for bans on other issues and the curriculum would risk becoming mired in legal arrangements. It is preferable to leave the curriculum to teachers and enable them to exercise their professional judgement on what is taught, rather than legislate to ban issues like Creationism in specific areas.
Prevalence of Creationism Teaching
Education Scotland’s science and Religious and Moral Education (RME) teams, along with HMI Subject Specialists, have engaged extensively with schools over the last two years. This includes visits to over 40 establishments as evidence gathering for the Sciences 3-18 Curriculum Impact Report; five sciences “conversation days” involving more than 250 stakeholders and Education Scotland engagement with many hundreds of teachers through events designed to support primary science and the new SQA sciences National Qualifications.
I am aware of concerns you have previously expressed about Creationism being taught in 3 schools in Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and Midlothian. I can confirm that since these incidents were highlighted no concerns have been expressed to Education Scotland staff, either in the RME or Science teams, about the teaching of Creationism or similar doctrines in Scottish schools and no school or teacher has sought guidance on this matter from Education Scotland. Education Scotland will, however, continue to monitor this through the independent inspection process, and other on-going engagement with practitioners and schools, including with science teachers, and address any issues that arise.
Approaches to this issue in other parts of the United Kingdom
You will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to offer a view on how this issue is approached in other parts of the United Kingdom as this is a matter for the other UK administrations. My officials have sought information from their counterparts in the other UK administrations and there are aspects of their approaches that are similar to our own.
I remain confident that checks and balances are in place to ensure that the teaching of Creationism or similar doctrines does not happen in school science classrooms in Scotland.
I hope the Committee finds this information of use.
Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages