Last month, Professor Alice Roberts visited Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, a creationist establishment recommended by Answers in Genesis, and wrote a highly critical report of what she found there. The Zoo Farm has replied on the Bristol culture website, and their response only adds further credibility to her strongest accusations. Since this website does not want to be accused of quote mining, I attach, in full, the Zoo’s statement, with our own comments inserted as appropriate. It should be remembered that the Zoo offers a range of what it describes as educational activities, including “an educational day out” for schools, with price discounts, on-site workshops described as being linked to the National Curriculum, and school and nursery outreach packages.
Professor Alice Roberts, from her web site
Prof Roberts tells of posters in the auditorium and children’s play area, which is presumably where the on-site workshops take place, claiming among other things that there are “30 reasons why apes are not related to man”, that humans were around at the same time as the first tetrapods (was Tiktaalik tasty, one wonders), that rates of radioactive decay were greater in the past, and that these possibilities should be considered as part of “an open, critical approach to explain what we see in the natural world.” She comments
I believe that religious fundamentalism has the potential to ruin scientific education. Apart from obscuring scientific facts, it teaches a way of thinking that is incredibly rigid. The evidence for a (very) old Earth and for evolution is overwhelming.
But believing in these things isn’t like a religious faith – it comes from a belief in evidence…. This [the zoo presentations] is, purely and simply, subversion of science Read the rest of this entry
I will be giving the Sunday Lecture to the Conway Hall Ethical Society at 11:00 on 16th March 2014. Attached is my draft publicity material. Comments and suggestions welcome.
“Creation science” is a 20th century heresy, albeit with far older roots. Its central claim is that beliefs compatible with biblically inspired creationism are in fact scientifically superior to mainstream views on evolution and an old earth. Its arguments for supernatural intervention range from the ludicrous to the highly sophisticated; from “Flood geology” to the origin of biological information; from Jehovah’s Witnesses pamphlets to seemingly scholarly works invoking cellular complexity or the so-called Cambrian Explosion. The creationists themselves are not necessarily stupid, nor ill-informed, nor (in other matters) deluded. In all cases, their deep motivation is the wish to preserve the supernatural role of God the Creator, and a particular view of the man-God relationship.
There are several interlocking organisations active in the UK to promote creationism. These include Glasgow’s own Centre for Intelligent Design (closely linked to the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and its notorious Wedge Strategy), Truth in Science, and The World Around Us/The Genesis Agendum, who between them have links to Brethren churches, the Christian Schools Trust, Answers in Genesis, and Creation Ministries International.
I will be discussing the attempts by such organizations to infiltrate the educational system, the inadequacies of official attempts to prevent this, and possible countermeasures. I will also be giving my own views on why creationist arguments are appealing to those without detailed background knowledge, and how we should respond.
Paul Braterman is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at GlasgowUniversity, and former Regents Professor at the University of North Texas, where his research related to the origins of life was funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA’s Astrobiology program. He is a committee member of the British Centre for Science Education, and of the Scottish Secular Society, and has been following creationist infiltration into education in the UK for some years. He is a regular contributor to 3 Quarks Daily, and his most recent book, From Stars to Stalagmites, discusses aspects of chemistry in their historical and everyday contexts.
As I explained in my last post, a pre-devolution law requires three unelected church representatives as full voting members of every Council Education Committee in Scotland, and I strongly urge my friends to support the Edinburgh Secular Society petition ( to read and, if you agree, sign, click here) to change this. I recently discovered that the law also requires Diocesan representation in England, from Church of England and the Catholic Church. I suspect that the reason for having three representatives in Scotland is the fractious history of Scottish Presbyterianism.
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 sits,unelected, on Clackmannanshire’s Education Committee
Anyway, there we are, stuck (as the law stands) with three representatives of religion, whether anyone wants them or no. One chosen by (not just from) the Church of Scotland, one by the Catholic Church, and one chosen to represent local religious belief. Holding the balance of power in 19 out of Scotland’s 32 councils. This despite the fact that more than a third of all Scots no longer identify with any religion, and 65% of young Scots identify themselves as non-religious.
So what are the implications for my own chief concern, the teaching of science? In the summer of 2015, the Scottish Secular Society use Freedom of Information requests to obtain a full list of these church appointees, and how they obtained their positions. At least ten of of them give particular reason for concern.
David Fraser, Baptist, Clackmannanshire, nominated himself when asked to consult with the District’s Baptists. He represents Alva Baptist Church, which links to Answers in Genesis on its website, while David Fraser himself hails from Metro Calvary Santa Monica. This church believes in the special creation of Adam and Eve as characters in history, and a literal historical Fall that left their descendants “corrupted in every aspect of their being”. I’m not sure I like the idea of my children’s education being directed, in part, by someone who thinks they are corrupted in every aspect of their being. And, that of the 150,000 people who will die today, the vast majority are entering Hell. However, there is some good news; they think they’ve found Noah’s Ark. Perhaps the Rev. David Fraser will make sure this discovery makes it into the syllabus of his Council’s schools.
John Jackson, East Dunbartonshire, represents Kirkintilloch Baptist Church, whose web site says almost nothing about the church’s beliefs. This does not bode well, although the list of sermon topics shows a commendable concern for social justice.
Falkirk Council gives us Michael Rollo, of Larbert Pentecostal Church, an affiliate of the modestly named “Assemblies of God”, whose beliefs include biblical infallibility, bodily resurrection, and “the everlasting conscious punishment of all whose names are not written in the book of life”. Charming. The Rev. Rollo owes his position to the fact that the Church of first choice, Episcopalian, failed to answer requests to nominate.
In Fife, we have Mr Alastair Crockett, from Cupar Baptist Church, whose statement of beliefs refers to the divine inspiration of the Bible, but does not mention infallibility. Promising, and I am aware that “Baptist” is, like “Evangelical”, a broad term including many whose attitude towards science is exemplary. As always, the devil (if I may so put it) is in the details. Regarding the Rev Graeme Clark, Central Baptist Church, Paisley (Renfrewshire) I can say even less, since his church seems to have lost its website.
No such ambiguity attaches to Mark Fraser, Assistant Pastor/Youth Minister, of The Bridge Church, Irvine (North Ayrshire), sole respondent to a newspaper advertisement, which maintains that “[t]he one who physically dies in his sins without Christ is hopelessly and eternally lost in the lake of fire and therefore, has no further opportunity of hearing the Gospel or for repentance. The lake of fire is literal.” It also believes in divine healing through the laying on of hands. So now we know. He believes that anyone who disagrees with him, including a clear majority of the children whose education he is influencing, is going to suffer eternal torment, and serve them right.
The Rev. David Donaldson, of Greenock Elim Pentecostal Church, also obtained his position in response to a newspaper advertisement. He received his training at the International Christian College in Glasgow, now replaced by the Scottish School of Christian Mission, and his Church’s beliefs include the literary infallibility of the Bible, a historical Fall, the universal sinfulness of all men since that Fall, rendering man subject to God’s wrath and condemnation, and the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked.
In South Lanarkshire, we have yet another sole respondent to a newspaper advertisement, Dr Nagy Iskander, of Westwoodhill Evangelical Church. This name will be familiar to my habitual readers for his direct association with Answers in Genesis, his presence (until last August) on the chaplaincy team of Calderglen High, and his commitment to the view that evolution and creationism are equally untestable, and should therefore be discussed evenhandedly. By all accounts, including those of his intellectual opponents, Dr Iskander is a thoroughly nice guy, and if (I’m not sure) he thinks I’m gong to burn in Hell forever, I am confident that he deeply regrets the fact, unlike some.
And finally, the Western Isles. Here the Church of Scotland is represented by the Moderator of the Presbytery of Lewis, currently threatening to secede over the ordination of gay ministers. We have the Free Church of Scotland, committed to biblical infallibility. There is a Catholic representative, although on my reading of the law there doesn’t really need to be one here. And then we have the Free Presbyterian Church, which regards all other churches as having fallen away in either doctrine or practice, maintains “that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired and infallible, from beginning to end” and that “[t]he duty of the civil magistrate is to protect the Church of God”, and devotes a page on its website to explaining why Christians shouldn’t celebrate Christmas.
All of the above, remember, sit and vote on committees designing educational policy for all the children in their area, believers and unbelievers alike, whether anyone else wants them there, or not.
Original post October 2013, updated October 2016. The petition to remove these unelected clergy is live for signature and comment, by Scots and others, here until November 16 2016.
Calderglen High School, a publicly funded school in East Kilbride near Glasgow, has a seven-member chaplaincy team, which, according to the School’s website, “provides for the school a rich and key resource for the curriculum”. The team includes three representatives of Baptist churches, three from the Church of Scotland, and one, Dr. Nagy Iskander, from Westwoodhill Evangelical Church. Generally speaking, the Church of Scotland accepts scientific reality, while views within the Baptist churches vary. So what of Dr. Iskander, who holds the balance?
On the school website, he says
I am interested in Science and the Bible and always happy to tackle questions in this area, so please feel free to contact me about any questions regarding Science and the Christian faith.
What he does not say is that he is an out and out supporter of biblical literalism, singled out for praise by Answers in Genesis, and a welcome visitor and occasional speaker at Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in Kentucky, where you will learn that the fossil record is a result of Noah’s Flood, and that “Biblical history is the key to understanding dinosaurs.” You will also find on the AiG web site recorded lectures by Dr Iskander, in which he states that belief in the literal truth of Genesis is foundational to Christianity. As for the relationship between Science and the Bible, Dr. Iskander had this to say to his local newspaper, on the occasion of Answers in Genesis’ Scottish Conference this month:
Both the creationists and evolutionists have the same facts – we have the same earth, the same geological layers, the same fossils – but when we examine the facts we might come to different conclusions, depending on our starting point.
And in case you are charitable enough to see some wriggle room here (note that weasel word “might”) for reconciling science with Dr. Iskander’s view of religion, consider this, from his statement to a reporter from the [Glasgow] Sunday Herald:
Creation according to the Christian faith is a supernatural act of God, so it will not be repeated and we can’t test creation in the lab. Evolution needs to take place over millions of years and we cannot test that either. My view on this is we should mention everything – we should examine all the evidence and all the facts and have an open and civilised discussion about all of this without excluding one or the other.
In response, I cannot improve on the words of my friend Roger Downie, Professor of Zoological Education in a letter he sent to the Sunday Herald (published 16 June):
Your quotation from Dr Nagy Iskander illustrates why creationists should not be let near science classes. He said ‘Evolution needs to take place over millions of years and we cannot test that…’ On the contrary, evolution through Darwin and Wallace’s process of natural selection is happening all the time, sometimes quite quickly. Since Dr Iskander is said to be a surgeon, I would hope that he is fully aware of the evolution of the antibiotic resistance that has made hospital procedures so risky. Science advances through the testing of hypotheses and the accumulation of evidence. Both medicine and biology have greatly benefited from this process. I presume Dr Iskander’s medical practice is based on such advances, rather than the superstitions of previous times.
It is perhaps unkind to describe pre-scientific views as “superstitions” when considered in the context of their time. But to put such views forward today in the name of religion, as serious alternatives to scientific knowledge, brings religion itself into disrepute.
Who appointed Dr. Iskander to his position with the school? Were they aware of his Young Earth creationist views? What do the school’s own teachers, including both the science teachers and those who teach about religion, think of his role, and does he have any influence over their teaching? How often does he address the school, and on what subjects? Are parents notified of his views and influence? Do he and his fellow members of the Chaplaincy Panel receive any payments or reimbursements from the school? And does the school obtain any materials from a company called Christian Schools Scotland, of which he is a director?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but intend to find out by addressing a Freedom of Information request of the school. I will let you know what they say.
PS: Today’s small country viewing here is the Cayman Islands, population 55,000.
Illustration: Humans living peacefully before the Fall with vegetarian tyrannosaurs. Public domain photo of actual exhibit, through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_Museum_10.png