Search Results for Lanark

Reining in creationists; South Lanarkshire, repenting past mistakes, leads the way

[Update: press reports here and here]

In 2013, the Scottish Secular Society were alerted by a member that a chaplaincy team at a school in East Kilbride had seemingly sent very young children home with Young Earth Creationism books, refuting evolution and disputing the age of the Earth. As complaints flooded in, it soon became clear that there was a serious problem in some Scottish schools. The sect implicated in Kirktonholme is an extreme American church called the Church of Christ; who believe amongst other things that there are only 700 Christians in Scotland and that we are desperately in need of saving. They sent a mission of young, enthusiastic volunteers to “educate” Scotland and show them the way.

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As more became known, further schools were implicated in the scandal and the outcry from concerned parents grew. Both the missionary team and the management team at the school were removed, and meetings were held to reassure parents that this could never happen again. However, without concrete provisions such assurances remained ethereal. Letters were written to MSPs and to the Education Authority to urge for real, concrete change which would rebuild the lost trust and reassure all parents in the LEA that this would never re-occur.

Today, we are pleased to announce that this situation has finally been properly rectified. South Lanarkshire Education Resources Committee met to consider a comprehensive report on the scandal, which recommended all the actions we had requested of the council to safeguard the rights, religious freedoms and indeed safety of the children in the local authority area. Every step and provision we requested has been accepted and implemented. So, what will change?

  • All members of the school chaplaincy team must have full PVG. This is the criminal records check which as a parent I had assumed that everyone in contact with my son would have cleared. This was not the case with chaplaincy in Kirktonholme and the South Lanarkshire region.
  • All religious groups must have a teacher present.Essentially this means that chaplaincy activities will not be unmonitored, and so those in school cannot deviate from the agreed agenda to promote their own views.
  • If there is something done under the auspices of the school and a teacher will not be present (extra-curricular activities) parental consent must be given. It is often assumed by schools that religious based activities are good and therefore parents will be happy to have their children included. This is one of the most frequent sources of complaints from parents that we receive.
  • All activities and resources used must be appropriate to the age and stage of the pupils and complement and endorse the school’s programmes of study, which will be based on Curriculum for Excellence guidance. This means no more allowing chaplains to teach Young Earth Creationism is correct and that science teachers are lying to them, or presenting other harmful beliefs like a Biblical view of homosexuality and marriage as truth.
  • School handbooks must contain a statement about the development of ‘Spiritual, social, moral and cultural values.’ Many parents think that non-denominational means non-religious. This is simply untrue in Britain where all schools are Protestant unless they explicitly state otherwise. Helping parents to understand this means they can then make informed choices about what their child is exposed to.
  • Annually schools must inform their parent council about the composition of the chaplaincy team. This information must be updated in the school handbook each year. The head teacher must engage in discussions with the chaplain(s) early in the school session about their role and the timing and subject of planned activities. Simply put, parents will know who is talking to their kids. Some churches are moderate, some less so. Parents will also be able to see if their own views are reflected on the team and whether it is representative of the make-up of the community.
  • Parents must be informed about the times and subject of planned activities which will be delivered by the chaplaincy team. This information must be shared through parent council meetings, news bulletins, school newsletters or the school website. An outline of religious observance events will be made available on request.Open-ness about what RO is taking place, when and with whom, means a parent knows exactly what their child is exposed to and finally is able to make an informed choice as per the law about whether they participate.
  • Under the terms of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, parents / carers have the right to ask for their children to be withdrawn from religious observance and / or religious and moral education. A statement to this effect must be included in the school handbook. In addition, parents must be reminded on an annual basis of their right to withdraw. This should be done through the school’s first newsletter. This very specific statement of how the right to withdraw must be communicated to parents means no more fudging the issue and sweeping their rights under the carpet. Parents will be annually informed, and given the full and proper information upon which to base their decision.
  • If a pupil is withdrawn the school must make suitable arrangements for the pupil to participate in a worthwhile activity, in consultation with parents. If parents have any concern about religious observance they should approach the head teacher to discuss their concerns.Another common complaint from parents who withdraw their kids is that they are either left in an office alone with nothing to do, or effectively punished for withdrawing from RO. Children doing worthwhile activities, and parents knowing what they are and having a say in it is a significant step forward.
  • Publications must not be sold to pupils by either individuals or groups. Head teachers must consider carefully the materials that they send home. If they think any materials are of a sensitive nature they must discuss them with their chaplaincy team and / or their parent council prior to issue and must seek advice from Education Resources staff. Presentations and any associated materials or publications which are used must be age and stage appropriate. The school must ensure that presentations and associated materials are at an appropriate level and should be interesting and stimulating. Handouts or other materials must be discussed with the head teacher in advance of events, to ensure their suitability and appropriateness. If the chaplaincy input is a team approach then fellow members of the team should view any materials prior to their issue. Clearly this addresses the nature of the materials sent home, and the possibility of groups such as the Challenger buses who tour schools selling Creationist materials direct to pupils.

 We are extremely pleased that South Lanarkshire has taken extensive and comprehensive steps to address our concerns and those of the parents in the authority. These steps ensure schools are able to have chaplaincy provision and to use it to support them in the delivery of the curriculum and the care of the pupils and staff, but effectively curtail the ability of rogue religious groups to abuse the trust they are given. They safeguard children and enable parents to understand what their children are exposed to, and that will greatly help to rebuild the relationship of trust.

The new guidelines from South Lanarkshire illustrate perfectly how secularism can balance the freedom of people to believe and follow their beliefs with the freedoms of those do not share that faith. However, these steps are not solving the issues in their entirety. They apply only to non-denominational schools, and only to those schools in the South Lanarkshire area. Parents in other areas remain un-informed of their rights and of the religious activities in the childrens’ schools. We would ask parents everywhere to question the school and find out who is having contact with their children, how often, and what views do they convey? Are they fully PVG checked, and are they supporting their childrens’ education or contradicting it?

As for denominational schools, children and parents within the denominational school system surely do not deserve to be less informed or protected? We accept it would not be possible to detail every provision of RO in a faith school, but neither is it acceptable for faith schools to assume that every parent and child under stands and accepts all the religious beliefs which the school represents. Faith schools must acknowledge that some parents send their children to such schools because of proximity, or the educational record of the school, and so educating them about what the school stands for is just as essential.

For one authority to take such extensive action while the government is saying there is no problem makes the government look naïve and ill-informed. We intend to ensure that the government does not remain ill-informed, and that they see the wisdom of implementing the measures above on a national level. We will be writing to each LEA to request they voluntarily follow suit, and to the government to suggest national uptake. It is honest communication with parents about religion in schools that will ensure religious representatives can be open participants in the school lives of those who want them, and these steps ensure parents can trust the school and authority to look after the safety and the best interests of their children with integrity.

STATEMENT FROM MARK GORDON ON SOUTH LANARKSHIRE CHANGES

Inverclyde parent, Mark Gordon, who initiated the Scottish Secular Society’s 2013 petition at the Scottish Parliament asking for Religious Observance to be made an Opt In rather than an Opt Out activity, had this to say.

“South Lanarkshire Council’s recent review of matters completely vindicates our position, highlighted in both the petition to change religious observance and the petition asking for head teachers to be given guidance on the presentation of separate creationism or so called intelligent design. The failure at Kirktonholme showed that head teachers need guidance in this regard. What South Lanarkshire Council have shown is a positive step and it is to be welcomed. It is a refreshing change of attitude.

Contrary to what our many well-funded and vociferous detractors have said, we have no desire to remove religion completely from the public space. We merely want parents and children to be given full information on what will be presented, for them to be given real choices and for their rights to be practical and effective rather than illusory. For many parents opting out is problematic because meaningful alternatives to religious observance are not available. Many parents are not even aware of their rights. South Lanarkshire Council’s approach, including a promise to remind parents annually of their right to opt out of religious observance, is a sensible one and I would hope that in the short term councils across Scotland see fit to determine a similar approach. More importantly it is clear that the educational professionals in South Lanarkshire have seen that the Scottish government’s so called safeguards are not sufficient as we have been saying all along. The Scottish government must now review their position on the provision of advice on creationism. Failure to do so will result in a confusing patchwork of standards across the country.

Until this is resolved across Scotland we would ask parents to check what is going on their child’s school and identify if it is suitable. Is the chaplain promoting one faith over another? Is the chaplain promoting religious ideas as fact? Is he promoting religious ideas that are detrimental to the teaching of accepted science? If so we would urge the

parent to question this. If the situation is not suitable we would ask the parent to consider opting out of religious  observance altogether”

Church Appointees on Scotland’s Education Committees (as of Summer 2015)

Church Appointees on Scotland’s Education Committees (as of Summer 2015)

We are in the course of updating this information to Spring 2017. We have confirmation from all Councils who have responded to date that the Church representatives do have the right to vote in the Education Committees that they sit on.

We give here the names, Church affiliations, and appointments procedure, of the Church Appointees on all of Scotland’s Council Education Committees, as determined by Freedom of Information requests during Summer 2015. Church of Scotland and Catholic appointees are appointed by their Church hierarchies and Councils have no chioce in the matter. Procedures vary by Council for selecting the Church allowed to nominate the third appointee.

Notes on appointment procedures:
(a) Church was sole applicant in response to advertisement (8 Councils)
(b) Position vacant, pending reply from nominating Church (2 Councils)
(c) No replies to advertisement. Sitting member agreed to continue in place (1 Council) Read the rest of this entry

LibDem Holyrood hopeful wants to keep Church nominees on Council Committees

I asked Robert Brown, top Glasgow Region LibDem list candidate, former Deputy Minister for Education and Young People, and current South Lanarkshire Councillor

Should we continue to leave in place the pre-devolution requirement for all Local Authority Education Committees to include three individuals selected by the Churches, sitting and voting alongside the Councillor members selected by the voters?

[Yes, I’m afraid that means what it says. Three of the members of your Council Education Committee were put there by the Churches, not the votersThis despite the fact that most Scots describe themselves as having no religion]

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Robert Brown: “on the whole valuable to have the Churches involved”

His reply [emphasis added]:

I am not particularly exercised by this. I think it is on the whole valuable to have the Churches involved but I have not sat on an Education Committee and don’t really know how it works out in practice.

It is linked to the broader question of the nature of religious observance and religious education in schools. As you may know, a new, more inclusive, Code of Practice on Religious observance was developed about 4 or 5 years back* which has, I think, proved satisfactory. I can’t say any of this is an issue on which I have had any representations from constituents over the years.

I should add that school communities are increasingly diverse in both religious and cultural background and this has to be reflected in the arrangements made on these things.

TruthBeTold (2)

Book handed out to all school assembly participants at Kirktonholme Primary, South Lanarkshire, during Robert Brown’s time as Councillor

I am appalled. Here we have a former Deputy Minister of the Education, and current South Lanarkshire Councillor, saying that “I am not particularly exercised” about this, and “… don’t really know how it works out in practice.” So he tells us that he doesn’t know and doesn’t care about this gross affront to democracy, despite its effect on the governance of the schools for which he formerly had Ministerial responsibility. This effect is real; the Church nominated members sit alongside the elected councillors, and hold the balance of power on 19 out of Scotland’s 32 Education Committees. He next attempts to distract attention from this highly specific issue by smothering it in the broader general context of religious observance in Scottish schools. Finally, he states that in his view the situation in recent years “has … proved satisfactory.”

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The Creation Museum, Kentucky, where Dr Iskander has lectured, presents Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) from a biblical standpoint

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From Truth be Told, Chapter 7, Dinosaurs and Man

This despite two major 2013 scandals in the schools of the very region for which he had then just taken his seat as Councillor. First we had the exposure of Nagy Iskander, then a member of the Chaplaincy Committee at Calderwood Academy, as an internationally recognised six-day creationist, Then, a few months later, we had the scandal at Kirktonholme, where an Alabama-based US fundamentalist sect distributed in School Assembly their own textbooks, showing humans using dinosaurs as farm animals; it was subsequently discovered that they had been influencing the school curriculum for eight years. That sect is no longer active in South Lanarkshire schools, but Dr Iskander continues to sit on South Lanarkshire’s Education Committee, having been appointed by his own Church, the biblical infallibilist Westwoodhill Evangelical.

The Scottish Secular Society will be seeking action on the issue of Church seats on Education Committees during the life of the new Parliament. We have collected data on how the Church nominees are appointed, and find arbitrary and inefficient recruitment mechanisms, gross overrepresentation of Noah’s Ark hellfire creationist churches, and bizarre cases such as that of North Lanarkshire, where an outgoing Councillor, having been soundly defeated at the polls in 2013, now sits on the Education Committee as representative of the Boys Brigade.

More in due course

*Mr Brown seems to be referring to the 2004 report on Religious Observance, and subsequent (2011) Government guidance, which recommends that Religious Observance be non-confessional. The recommendation is non-binding, generally ignored, and did nothing to prevent the Kirktonholme scqndal of which he seems strangely unaware.

An affront to democracy; unelected Church nominees sit and vote on Council Education Committees in Scotland (and England)

A question for your Holyrood candidates

I will be asking my Scottish parliamentary candidates how, in their view, Council Education Committees ought to be selected.  Should they simply consist of elected councillors, plus others (e.g. teachers) that they vote to co-opt? If not, what arrangement would the candidate prefer? And readers may also want to ask about this; I would love to hear the candidates’ answers. Why I am asking this strange question? Because of these strange facts:

The scandal

Church_of_Scotland_Offices,_Edinburgh

Edinburgh HQ of Church of Scotland, which appoints 33 Committee members

By pre-devolution law, all Council Education Committees must include three individuals nominated by Churches. One nominee is from the Catholic Church, and one from the Church of Scotland. The third is from a religious body selected by the Council, having regard to local demographics. The elected councillors themselves have no further say in the matter, nor do those they represent. Non-believers, and members of any other than the three privileged denominations, need not apply. Nor need experts in curriculum development, child health, social planning, or any other form of worldly expertise.

And just in case any of my English friends are thinking “silly old Scotland again”, did you realise that there are two such nominees on every English Local Authority Education Committee, one Church of England and one Catholic? Presumably the larger number in Scotland reflects the more fractious nature of our ecclesiastical politics:

Churches_of_Scotland_timeline.svg (1)

Education Committees control a larger part of Council budgets than any other Committee. They are the ultimate employers of School Principals and teachers, as well as being represented on senior teacher selection panels.  They decide on the opening and closing of schools and whether a school should be denominational or nondenominational, and control local practice in such matters as religious education, religious observance, and instruction about sex in human relationships.

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The Episcopal Church, with 25,000 communicants, was offered 10 places on Committees and has filled 7 of them

The requirement for representatives of religion on these Committees dates back through Acts in 1994 and 1973 to the 1929 reorganisation of local government in Scotland, and the earlier provisions on which it was based. To a time when the formation of the public education system was fresh in the memory, and when the population of Scotland was overwhelmingly religious.*

Almost a century later, none of this is still true. According to the 2011 census figures, the largest single religious category is “None”, while only 54% of the population describe themselves as Christian. These numbers vary greatly from region to region; the legal requirement does not. The 2014 Scottish Government Social Attitudes Survey shows 68 percent of 18-24 -year-olds and 56 percent of 25-39 -year-olds describing themselves as “no religion”. So the Nones are an actual majority in the age cohorts now beginning to send their children to school. And surely no one would claim that the pre-1918 system gives the Churches an inherited right over education. We are talking about children, not property.

The role of the Church nominees is real, not ceremonial. According to the Church of Scotland itself, they hold the balance of power in 19 of Scotland’s 32 Education Committees, so that in an actual majority of Councils, the wishes of the controlling party or coalition can be overridden if these nominees side with the opposition. Given, moreover, the admirably conversational tone of much Scottish politics, their influence will not be limited to such formal occasions. And from time to time they represent the Council on teacher selection panels.

Why this matters

Space does not permit full elaboration of the case for abolition of these privileged positions, so the following incomplete summary must suffice:

The arrangement violates human rights. It excludes nonbelievers, and followers of any belief system other than the three represented, from equal participation in the process of government

It is anti-democratic. It places part of the machinery of government under the influence of individuals in whose appointment the electorate has no say. The point here is not that these individuals are religious; so indeed many elected councillors. It is that they are unelected. They sit and vote on the most important of all local authority committees, having completely bypassed the democratic process

It assumes a consensus in favour of religion that no longer exists. Nonbelievers are now the single largest group in Scotland, and an actual majority among the young

It restricts the ability of elected Councillors to co-opt individuals of their own choosing, since both law and common sense require that the Committees have a majority of elected members

It has proved difficult if not impossible to follow in practice. Freedom of Information request found that, as of July 2015, seven councils had failed to fill all positions; one (Orkney) had appointed no religious representatives; eight had filled the third Church Representative position by newspaper advertisements that had attracted only one applicant; one representative had nominated himself when asked to consult with colleagues; and for these or other reasons, in 18 out of 32 councils the process had clearly proved defective.

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The Rev. David Fraser’s church quotes experts 99.9% sure that they have found Noah’s Ark (this, from his Church’s web site, is just a scale model). The Rev. David Fraser, who sits,unelected, on Clackmannanshire’s Education Committee, believes (see website) that “The vast majority of those dying are entering hell.”

It gives power to unelected individuals with extreme and unrepresentative views. I blogged on this in 2013, and the situation has not changed. The haphazard procedures described above make it easy for extreme Churches to gain the right to nominate a representative. Thus, from the limited information available on Church websites, we know that there are at least six representatives of Churches (in Clackmannanshire, Highland, Inverclyde, Na h-Eileanan Siar, North Ayrshire and Souh Lanarkshire) who believe that the prescribed Earth and Life Sciences syllabus is a pack of lies, the same number believing in the literal physical eternal punishment of those who reject Jesus, and one who believes in the curing of physical ailments by laying on of hands. For the nominees of these Churches, holding these extreme views becomes a job requirement for Education Committee membership, despite the science content of the Curriculum and the educational goals of tolerance and inclusiveness

It risks placing teachers and school management teams in an impossible position. I know of cases where a six-day creationist is simultaneously a member of school chaplaincy teams, and of the Education Committee overseeing these same schools. Consider the dilemma of a science teacher who may wish to confront him

It gives double representation to specific privileged viewpoints. If a concern arises related to the special interests of one particular religious group, constituents belonging to that group can appeal, both to their own council members, and to the relevant Church nominee

Finally, it gives the Councils an unwanted and unwarranted voice in the internal affairs of religion itself. They are forced to nominate one from the numerous religious organisations in their area, at the expense of all the others. And in the event of schism within a Church, for which there is precedent, they would be required to choose between rival claimants.

The simple remedy

A one-paragraph Act, revoking one clause of the existing legislation, is all that is needed to remove the offending requirement. If the elected councillors still wished to co-opt representatives of Churches, or the public chose to elect them to office, they would, of course, be free to do so. But imposed Church nominees on Education Committees are an indefensible anachronism, incompatible with the realities and aspirations of a modern democratic Scotland. It is time for them to go.

Footnotes:

Adapted from my op-ed in The Scotsman, which attracted this comment:

It’s a simple argument. Council education committees currently have unelected special interest members, this a legacy quid pro quo from when the churches handed over their schools to be run by the state. The issue should not be that these members are religious but that they have not been elected. Only those who have been elected should have voting rights.

* Parallel legislation regarding England specifies two representatives of religion, one from the Church of England and the other from the Catholic Church; the difference between England and Scotland presumably reflects the more fractious nature of religion in Scotland; the 1929 Act was presumably drafted just before the (partial) healing of the Great Disruption that had split the Church of Scotland since 1843.

Church of Scotland offices by Kim Traynor via Wikipedia under Creative Commons licence. Committee membership as of September 2015, from FoI responses by Councils. Church history diagram by Hogweard via Wikipedia, public domain; click to enlarge or see here for full scale view. St Mary’s cathedral Church, Edinburgh, by Finlay McWalter via Wikipedia under GNU licence; church membership figures for Episcopalians as of 2013, from Church Times

Keeping creationism out of Scottish schools; the long, long paper trail

Scottish Parliament: Return to homepageThe 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.

NoblePamphletAttention 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:

Petition abstract:

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.

With Spencer Fildes, giving evidence before Public Petitions Committee

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

Transcript at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9635&i=87504 or (PDF) http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9635&mode=pdf

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.”

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (see Dec 23, Sept 12, Sept 7) “I have emphasized over and over that we are in a war and the battle is for the hearts and minds of our kids and news coming out of Scotland only confirms this.”

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).

Herald 12 May: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/formal-ban-on-teaching-of-creationism-rejected.125864971

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

The National 11 March: http://www.thenational.scot/news/its-official-government-minister-says-creationism-should-not-be-taught-in-science-classes.926 It’s official: creationism is not for science classes

Press and Journal (Highlands and Islands), 11 Mar: MSPs hear ban appeal

Courier and Advertiser (Fife), 11 Mar: Classroom is no place for politics

Herald 10 March 2015: http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/msps-to-debate-banning-teaching-of-creationism.1425976145 MSPs to debate petition calling for ban on teaching of creationism

Scotsman 10 March: http://www.scotsman.com/news/education/creationism-teaching-ban-to-be-considered-1-3714209

[Dundee] Courier via Press Association, 10 March 2015:  http://www.thecourier.co.uk/news/scotland/scottish-secular-society-asks-holyrood-for-ban-on-creationism-in-schools-1.848950 Scottish Secular Society asks Holyrood for ban on creationism in schools

STV News 10 March: http://news.stv.tv/scotland/313316-creationism-should-not-be-taught-in-science-lessons-says-alasdair-allan/ Creationism should not be taught in science lessons, says minister

Glasgow South and Eastwood Reporter, 10 March:  Teaching of creationism threatened in Scotland’s schools

Southern Reporter, 10 March: Creation teaching ban call made

Evangelical Times March 2015: http://www.evangelical-times.org/archive/item/7231/Education/Creationism-in-Scotland/

Herald 8 Feb: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/msp-calls-for-crackdown-on-creationism-in-schools.117960634

Holyrood, 4 Feb 2015: https://www.holyrood.com/articles/comment/name-god In the name of God; discusses John Mason’s counter-motion opposing the petition

Herald 1 Feb: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/creationism-on-trial.117408336 Creationism on trial (letters)

(US) National center for Science education, Jan 30: http://ncse.com/news/2015/01/dueling-legislation-scotland-0016156 Duelling legislation in Scotland. The reference is to our petition and the supporting parliamentary motion, as opposed to John Mason’s petition defending creationist teaching.

The Biologist, ca. 28 January 2015: http://thebiologist.societyofbiology.org/biologist-news/14-news/1133-creationism-in-scotland-s-schools-petition-makes-progress

ForbesForbes 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 [1] 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:

Cartsbridge Evangelical ChurchNot 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

Herald 12 Nov http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/religious-extremists-infiltrating-schools.25845620

‘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

STV News 8 Nov: http://news.stv.tv/scotland/298911-free-church-creationism-teaching-ban-is-bigoted-and-anti-religious/

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 4 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/faith-has-no-place-in-the-science-classroom.25739522

NCSE 4 Nov: http://ncse.com/news/2014/11/banning-creationism-scottish-schools-0015967

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

May 20 2015: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/creationism-in-scottish-schools-we-won/

GenieFbImageFebruary 18: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/darwin-vs-todays-creationists-eugenie-scott-in-glasgow/

February 12: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/holyrood-dinosaur-makes-international-business-times-headline/

Jan 31: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/18-msps-now-back-motion-to-rein-in-creationism-in-scottish-schools/

Jan 27: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/creationism-in-scotland-our-petition-makes-progress/ 

Jan 25: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/fight-against-creationism-in-scotland-gains-powerful-allies-imminent-developments/

Jan 22: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/reining-in-creationists-south-lanarkshire-repenting-past-mistakes-leads-the-way/

Jan 19: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/creationism-in-scottish-schools-final-submission-to-scottish-parliament/

Dec 28 2014: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/scotland-refuses-to-ban-teaching-of-creationism/

Dec 27: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/answers-in-genesis-praises-scottish-governments-creationism-teaching-policy/

Dec 16: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/ok-to-teach-creationism-in-context-says-scottish-government/

Nov 10: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/the-battle-for-evolution-in-scottish-schools/ (reblogged from Jonny Scaramanga’s Leaving fundamentalism)

Nov 7: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/answers-in-genesis-attacks-our-petition-against-creationism-young-earthism/

Nov 5: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/scotlands-kitzmiller-we-need-your-help/

Nov 2: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/petition-against-evolution-denial-gets-full-page-coverage-in-glasgow-sunday-herald/

Oct 17: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/centre-for-intelligent-design-launches-naked-creationist-attack-on-secscot-petition/

Aug 29: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/historian-geologist-school-governor-priest-writes-supporting-petition-against-creationism-in-scots-schools/

Aug 26: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/3rd-nobel-prize-winner-backs-petition-keep-creationist-teaching-out-of-scots-schools/

Aug 23: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/08/23/scottish-schools-we-dont-invite-antivaxxers-so-we-shouldnt-invite-antievolutionists/

Aug 10: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/second-nobel-laureate-signs-petition-attached-to-keep-creationist-teaching-out-of-scottish-state-schools/

Aug 9: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/nobel-prize-winner-backs-will-you-back-petition-to-keep-creationism-out-of-scottish-schools/

July 26 2014: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/against-creationism-in-scottish-schools-sign-support-share/

June 23: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/petition-to-scottish-parliament-no-state-funded-creationist-teaching-draft-text-comments-requested/

June 21 2014: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/england-bans-creationist-teaching-so-should-scotland-petition-in-preparation-more-on-monday/

[1] 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

Creationism in Scottish schools – we won!

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.

AlasdairAllanMSP20120530.jpg

Alasdair Allan, MSP, Minister for Learning, Science, and Scotland’s Languages. Constituency Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles), which is a stronghold of biblical literalism.

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

Convener

Education and Culture Committee
The Scottish Parliament
EDINBURGH
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.

ALASDAIR ALLAN

Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages

Noah’s Ark found says Self-nominated Scots Education Committee member

Yes, today is April 1st. No, this is not a joke.

The Reverend David Fraser sits, self-selected, as a full voting member on the Education Committee of Clackmannanshire County Council. So if you live in Clackmannanshire, he helps decide educational policy for your children, and if you teach in Clackmannanshire, he is, in a sense, your boss.

(Past tense; according to LinkedIn, he relinquished his place on the Committee in 2014. I do not know if my previous expose’ contributed to this. Edit: according to FoI response from Council, 2015, he is still in place, having nominated himself when asked to advise on who shoud represent the Baptist churches in the area)

Be afraid. Be very afraid. What you see next is straight from the Reverend’s Church’s web site. And there’s worse to come.

150,000 PEOPLE
WILL DIE TODAY
THE COUNTER TO THE SIDE IS TICKING OFF THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE DIED SINCE YOU OPENED THIS WEBPAGE. THE VAST MAJORITY OF THOSE PEOPLE ARE ENTERING HELL. CHRIST COMMANDED HIS FOLLOWERS TO SHARE THE GOSPEL WITH THOSE WHO ARE PERISHING… WHO HAVE YOU SHARED WITH TODAY?

And as for Noah’s Ark, a search on “Alva Baptist Genesis” turned up this:

Model “Noah’s Ark” at Dortrecht, Netherlands, as illustrated on Alva Church web site.

(What is shown here is an earlier model. There is now a full size version of the Ark, certified as seaworthy, but what many visitors may not realise is that these Arks are wooden skins over steel supports and resting on barges). The same web page links us to a video in which we are told that “Experts are 99.9% sure” that they have found fragments of Noah’s ark on – where else? – the slopes of Mount Ararat 2 1/2 miles above sea level. Straw in the wreckage is said to radicarbon date to “when Noah was afloat”, and “Skeptics are, as usual, skeptical, but for those who believe in the Bible literally, Noah’s Ark is a major find.”

The Reverend David Fraser is a Baptist, but this is an extremely broad description. For example, Steve Chalke, who was recently drummed out of the Evangelical Alliance for rejecting biblical literalism, is a Baptist minister. So to see what David Fraser believes, we have to dig a little deeper.

Fraser hails from Metro Calvary Church, Los Angeles, whose statement of belief includes biblical infallibility and inerrancy, obviously to be taken in a literal sense, a historical Adam and Eve, and that “man is totally depraved and of himself utterly unable to remedy his lost condition.” The Church also believes ” in the bodily resurrection of both the just and the unjust — the unjust to judgment and eternal conscious punishment in the lake of fire”.

You may be wondering why someone who believes that children are totally depraved and, unless they receive justification through God’s grace, are destined to eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire, is doing sitting on an Education Committee, rather than being locked away from them at a safe distance. Let me explain.

The educational systems of both England and Scotland emerged in something like their present forms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, by the coming together of secular and church schools (a process that the last two administrations have done much to reverse). This led to the representation, as prior stakeholders, of the Churches. But which Churches?

In England, the answer was obvious; Church of England, and Roman Catholic.

And so, to this day, every Local Education Authority in England has, by law, one full voting member appointed by the local Catholic diocese, and one appointed by Church of England. 

In Scotland, as the diagram here shows, it’s more complicated. From the Great Disruption of 1843 onwards, the dominant Presbyterian church in Scotland was split between two major factions; the Church of Scotland, and the Free Church (after 1900, the United Free Church) of

Evolution of the Church in Scotland, from the reformation to the present. From Wikipedia article “Free Church of Scotland (1843 – 1900)”

Scotland. This schism was not healed until 1929, after the original Church of Scotland was disestablished. Meantime, various factions had split off in the process, to give a bewildering collection of splinter groups, mainly theologically conservative and even biblical literalist, as is the faction that, after a legal battle that went all the way to the United Kingdom’s highest court, won the right to call itself, at it still does, The Free Church of Scotland.

So during the formative years of the State school system, there were two major contenders for the role of leading Protestant Church in Scotland, and for this reason, to this day,

every local authority in Scotland (i.e., now, every Council) must have, on its Education Committee, three religious appointees, one Roman Catholic, one Church of Scotland, and one other.

The rules for pointing this “other” vary from authority to authority, but with major over-representation of the splinter groups referred to above, and their allies among theologically conservative Baptists such as David Fraser.

When, today, I checked on the website of David Fraser’s Alva Baptist Church, it had become much more difficult to navigate. It still tells us that ” We believe that God has big plans for this wee church and town of Alva”, but links to the Church’s specific beleifs, and to the Reverend’s “complete profile”, were dead. However, “Evangelical resources” took me to a page for Ray Comfort’s Living Waters, which in turn took me to the hard line Creationist Evolution Vs. God, endorsed by Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and Creation Today. All of whom believe, and consider it praiseworthy to believe, that all people and animals on Earth today are descended from a handful in the Ark who survived a world-wide flood covering the mountain tops, just at the very same time that the Egyptians, miraculously unperturbed, were in the middle of building the Pyramids.

And David Fraser, let me remind you, sits unelected on, and has full voting rights on, the Education Committee that decides policies and spending priorities for Clackmannanshire.

Nor is he unique. Among other examples, representatives on the Councils of Falkirk and North Ayrshire maintain that unbelief will be justly punished by a Hell that is physical, literal, and eternal. In South Lanarkshire, home to the Kirktonholme scandal, Nagy Iskander maintains that science and biblical creationism have the same degree of intellectual merit.

And the voice of these unelected representatives is no minor matter, since, as the Church of Scotland tells us, they hold the balance of power in 19 out of Scotland’s 32 Council Education Committees.

Is this what we really want?

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.

Creationism in Scotland’s schools; our petition makes progress

Scottish Parliament: Return to homepageThis morning, the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament held its third and final hearing on the Scottish Secular Society’s Petition PE01530. The meeting is archived here, and a transcript will be available in about a week here.

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.

I quote this again, since the Petition’s opponents, with scant regard for the Commandment against bearing false witness, repeatedly claim that we want to shut down all discussion of religion, or of the Biblical account of creation, or whatever. Indeed, such claims were actually quoted at the Committee meeting, by members concerned to show suitable sensitivity towards the tender feelings of their own creationist constituents.

However, the issue was never really in doubt, given the support that our petition has received among Members of the Scottish Parliament; see here.

The Convener was admirably blunt in describing creationism as “bilge”, and while no one dissented from this, there was still some discussion as to whether it presented a real problem. Eventually, however, and without a division, the Petitions Committee agreed to our request to forward the Petition to the Education and Culture Committee for further consideration. We could not have hoped for a better outome.

I would like to thank all those who have contributed to the discussion stirred up by our Petition, individually or as members of organisations. By moving the issue into the limelight, instead of leaving it in the decent obscurity that many would prefer, you have stimulated an unprecedented level of debate, not only on this specific subject, but on the entire question of the appropriate role of religion in Scotland’s publicly funded schools.This is far more than I would have imagined possible at the outset, or even as recently as a week ago.

This is an issue that, in Scotland, cuts across party lines, and indeed the bulk of our recorded parliamentary support comes from members of the governing Scottish National Party, although the Government itself is still pretending that there is no creationism problem here.

For the record, I attach the Scottish Secular Society’s press release of this morning, and its list of links and sources. my own blog posts on the subject are all on this site, collected here. My posts on the interwoven topic of the Kirktonholme Creationist textbook scandal, and subsequent developments including the admirable new South Lanarkshire guidelines, are here. I will keep you informed of new developments, and, once more, I thank you.

SCOTTISH SECULAR SOCIETY SATISFIED ‘CREATIONISM’ PETITION TO GO BEFORE EDUCATION AND CULTURE COMMITTEE

 ·        SSS seek guidance on how creationism is presented in schools

·        PPC refer matter to E&CC

 The Parliament Petitions Committee (PPC) has today advised the Education and Culture committee to look at the Scottish Secular Society’s petition on the teaching of creationism in schools. The SSS are very satisfied with this outcome, that Education and Culture committee are the people best placed to consider the matter and understand the importance of good science education to Scotland.

 http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/creationismguidance

 Spencer Fildes, Chair of the SSS said: “We are delighted that the Public Petitions Committee (P.P.C.) have agreed to refer our petition to the E&CC. Interestingly, the PPC specifically acknowledge the more stringent guidelines now in place across England and Wales regarding the teaching of creationism, they also noted although the E.I.S. and other professional bodies state there are safeguards in place for teaching staff, there were concerns within the PPC around the lack of safeguards regarding external third parties such as Chaplains and volunteers.

Unfortunately the obvious lack of safeguards allowed the teaching of creationism at Kirktonholme to flourish and go unnoticed for over 8 years. Encouragingly, South Lanarkshire have subsequently undertaken a complete overhaul of the delivery and presentation of religion in their schools, making it fairer for those of belief and those of none, with all proper safeguards and checks in place. An excellent example of a secular democracy at work.

 They have actually implemented all the recommendations the Scottish Secular Society proposed in our last petition.”

 Former Chair of the SSS, Caroline Lynch, said: “We are very pleased that the integrity of Scottish science education is taken seriously by the PCC, and that the appropriate committee will now be looking at this issue. It is important that they understand we seek no new law or ban on Creationism, but guidance that ensures that discussions of the creation myths of any religions featured in schools are conveyed in the appropriate place, the RME classroom. Guidelines mirroring those already in place in England need not stifle discussion and debate, but simply ensure that ideas without evidence are not given the stature of accepted science.”

 Professor Paul Braterman, SSS board member and scientific advisor said: “I am very pleased that the committee showed awareness of dissatisfaction with the lack of guidelines within the teaching profession, although I regret that the Society of Biology was not mentioned, but I am pleased with this outcome and feel sure that the education and Culture Committee will take all this into account.”

END

 Notes to Editors: –

 Sir John Sulston, Sir Harold Kroto and Sir Richard Roberts.

 http://ncse.com/news/2014/11/banning-creationism-scottish-schools-0015967

Press release on Scottish Secular Society petition: –

http://scottishsecularsociety.com/scottish-secular-society-launch-petition-seeking-guidance-on-how-creationism-is-presented-in-schools/

Anger over move to teach intelligent design in school (The Herald):-

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/anger-over-move-to-teach-intelligent-design-in-schools.25756300?utm_source=www.heraldscotland.comutm_medium%3DRSS+Feedutm_campaign%3DScottish+News+

 Faith has no place in the classroom (The Herald):-

http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/faith-has-no-place-in-the-science-classroom.25739522

 Creationists take fire for wanting ‘objective’ education in Scottish schools (USA):-

http://www.inquisitr.com/1581069/creationists-take-fire-for-wanting-objective-education-in-schools/?fb_action_ids=10205005310514045&fb_action_types=og.comments

 Michael Zimmerman – “Creationism at Its Most Extreme: Will the Scottish Parliament Respond?”:-

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-zimmerman/creationism-at-its-most-e_b_5582955.html

 Dr Alasdair Allan MSP Minister for Learning says he has complete confidence in teachers: –

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/alasdair-allan-says-complete-confidence-2826128

 Alastair Noble’s comments quoted in press release: –http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/would-you-adam-and-eve-it-top-scientists-tell-scottish-pupils-the-bible-is-true-1.1060545

 Open letter from SSS to Mike Russell MSP Secretary for Education on 1 October 2013 asking for ban on teaching of creationism: –

http://scottishsecularsociety.com/open-letter-to-mike-russell-msp-cabinet-secretary-for-education-and-lifelong-learning/

 Parliamentary TV footage of SSS petition and former Chair Caroline Lynch exposing Kirktonhome School scandal for first time at 11:00: –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXOAy3YPuSA

 

Fight against Creationism in Scotland gains powerful allies; imminent developments

Yesterday I posted about Motion S4M-12149, which a Dinosaur had posted to assert that 6-day creationism had not been scientifically disproved, and that Scottish schools should present it as a viable world-view.

Today I discovered that this was a reaction to the following:

Motion S4M-12148Stewart Maxwell, West Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/01/2015

Crackdown against Creationism

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.

Five MSPs from the governing Party, as well as the eloquent Patrick Harvie whose support will be no surprise to those who know the Scottish scene.

Whereas the Dinosaur’s motion has no signatures but his own. How embarrassing.

The Motion refers to developments in South Lanarkshire, which I wrote about here. South Lanarkshire is the authority in charge of Kirktonholme Primary, scene of an outrageous episode in September 2013, when lunatic fringe 6-day creationist books, showing dinosaurs as farmyard animals and describing evolution as wicked, were handed out in Assembly. It has now introduced admirable guidelines regarding chaplains, making Head Teachers responsible for their actions, requiring a member of teaching staff to be present during all their formal in-school activity, and requiring them to respect the guidelines of the Curriculum for Excellence. Since the Curriculum for Excellence explicitly acknowledges evolution as a key concept, this effectively precludes the teaching of creationism as a viable alternative.

The Society of Biology position is spelt out in its submission to the Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, in support of 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.

The Society of Biology submission says, among other things, that

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.

That last sentence is one that I wholeheartedly endorse, and that widens the debate on how to proceed. And in Scotland the question is not confined to science lessons, since concepts of creation are (and should be) discussed explicitly in RE, which is a compulsory component of the curriculum. [1] So for me, this sentence implies a two-way interaction. RE teachers and others concerned with discussing the history of ideas should be aware that separate creationism and what nowadays calls itself Intelligent Design have been utterly discredited scientifically, while science teachers should be able to explain that in every religion,with the possible exceptions of Mormonism and Seventh Day Adventism/Jehovah’s Witness, the creationists’ claim to speak for all believers is bogus and may even be blasphemous.

The Petitions Committee, regular readers may recall, seriously considered killing our Petition when they took evidence on it in November, but decided on a vote that crossed party lines to collect further evidence. The Committee meets again on Tuesday, with 5 new members. It should be an interesting occasion. The meeting is open to the public, but if you want to attend you had better book your seat now. The hearing will also be webcast live here, with transcript posted abut a week later here.

I am of course enormously gratified to see the Scottish Secular Society, to which I am scientific adviser, singled out for mention, and language that I helped draft, finding its way into a Parliamentary Motion that may well signal a turning point in this discussion.

But I will, nonetheless, be relieved when all this is over and I can get back to writing about science.

1] Individual parents, and pupils over the age of 16, have the right to withdraw from RE. In principle, RE is meant to be informative rather than confessional, but this is not always the case in practice.

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