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Even on his birthday, don’t say Darwin unless you mean it (updated)

How Darwin’s name is taken in vain, with mini-reviews of some of the worst offenders. And when I wrote about this last year, I did not expect to have to add a US Vice-President to their number.

Charles Darwin never thought of evolution as anything other than a theory. He hoped that someday it would be proven by the fossil record but did not live to see that, nor have we. – Representative (now Vice-President) Mike Pence, 2002, via Forbes

Darwinstree

From Darwin’s Notebook B, 1837

Don’t say Darwin unless you mean it. Don’t say theory when you mean historical fact. And don’t say you believe in evolution, when you mean you accept it on the basis of the evidence.

Don’t say Darwin unless you mean it. Above all, don’t say “Darwin” when you mean “evolution”. It’s like saying “Dalton” when you mean atoms. Our understanding of atoms has moved on enormously since Dalton’s time, and our understanding of evolution has moved on similarly since Darwin’s. Neither of them knew, or could have known, anything about what caused the phenomena they were talking about, and both would be delighted at how thoroughly their own work has been superseded.

 Imagine if a lot of people decided that atomic theory was against their religion. We would see a parallel world of sacred science, in which molecules were “intelligently constructed”, and real chemistry would be referred to as Daltonism, or possibly, these days, neo-Daltonism. The scientific dissidents

DaltonAtoms

From John Dalton’s A New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808)

from Daltonism would invoke Dalton’s name on every possible occasion, and draw attention to the many inadequacies of atomic theory as he presented it in 1808. Dalton didn’t know anything about the forces that hold atoms together, which depend on electrons and quantum mechanics. In fact, he didn’t even know about electrons. Worse still, he was hopelessly muddled about the difference between a molecule of hydrogen and an atom of hydrogen. He thought that the simplest compound between two different elements A and B would have the formula AB, so that water must be HO, not H2O. And of course he knew nothing about the origin of atoms, a problem not solved until the 1950s, over a century after his death. Shot through with errors and inconsistencies; nonsense, the lot of it!

Darwin was ignorant of transitional fossils, and in words still quoted by creationists deplored their absence as the greatest objection to his theory. He was equally ignorant about the origin of biological novelty, which comes from mutating genes. In fact, he didn’t even know about genes. And because he did not realise that inheritance occurred through genes, he could not explain why favourable variations were not simply diluted out.

It would be decades after his death before we could even speculate coherently about the origins of life, and despite tantalising clues it remains a largely unsolved problem. But despite this, we have learnt an enormous amount since the publication of On The Origin of Species, and everything that we have learnt is consistent with, indeed requires, the key concepts of evolution and common descent.

Finally, he saw evolution as driven by natural selection, embracing Herbert Spencer’s reference to “the survival of the fittest”, whereas now it is increasingly apparent that much evolution depends on neutral drift, and that major evolutionary changes may even require passing through marginally less fit intermediates (see my next post here). So, ironically, the term “Darwinian evolution”, describing as it does evolution driven by natural selection, is now used in the scientific literature to refer to just one special case.

And while we’re on the subject of how words are used, don’t say “theory of evolution” when you mean the well-established facts of change over time and common ancestry. And if you find yourself in the position of explaining the difference between a scientific theory (coherent intellectual structure developed to explain a range of observations), and the use of the word “theory” in everyday use (provisional hypothesis), you have blundered into a morass. Back out again.

And don’t say that you “believe in” evolution. It’s not a matter of believing, with its suggestion of committing oneself beyond the evidence; it’s a matter of accepting where that evidence leads.

“Accepting”, indeed, might be a very useful word, especially when dealing with religiously motivated creationist students. If such a student accepts that the evidence points towards evolution, and understands why, then any religiously motivated inner reservations are a matter for the student, not for you.

ExploreEvolutionBut back to Darwin. Why is discussion of evolution still saturated with his name? In part, I think, because that’s the way his opponents want it. By identifying evolution with Darwin, they continue to breathe life into the controversies of the mid-19th century. At the same time, it helps them pretend that modern biology is just one individual’s point of view, rather than a mature science based on the work of thousands of investigators. Recently, creationists have even taken to invoking Darwin himself for their cause, in such titles as Darwin’s Doubt and Darwin Strikes Back. This is an extremely powerful rhetorical tool, whereby anything that puzzled Darwin can be used to undermine us “Darwinists”. Closely related is the device of presenting creationism under the guise of even-handed debate, as when a creationist pseudo-textbook (which mentions Darwin on almost every page, but not in the index) calls itself Explore Evolution; the arguments for and against neo-Darwinism, or in the list below, where a creationist comic goes by the name, What’s Darwin got to do with it? A friendly discussion …

DarwinsBlackBox You can see what I mean if you just look at the names of the books written by the enemies of scientific biology, from Darwin’s Doubt (Meyer, 2013) back to Darwin’s Black Box (Behe, 1996) and beyond. There are other examples, such as The Darwin Conspiracy (Roy Davies, 2006), which portrays Darwin as a plagiarist, and, while checking its details, I discovered an even more lurid book of the same name by John Darnton, which portrays him as a murderer. To be fair, Darnton does not pretend that he is writing anything other than fiction, although surely he was writing with half an eye on the creationist market.

To further test my idea, I went online to Amazon.com, and typed “Darwin” and “Darwinism” in the search window (I regularly search on Amazon, but prefer to buy from Better World Books or Wordery). Here are some of the books by creationists that I came up with; a lot of the names were all too familiar, but I never realized that Rick Santorum had actually got his name on a book.  There were also references to “materialist neo-Darwinism”, but since I don’t pretend to know what a “materialist” is, and whether I or for that matter Darwin would qualify, I decided to let those ones go. The most recent entry (December 2016) is one I heard about through the Discovery Institute, who also published it.

Darwin's House of Cards: A Journalist's Odyssey Through the Darwin Debates by [Bethell, Tom]

Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through the Darwin Debates, 2016, by Tom Bethell who “presents a concise yet wide-ranging tour of the flash points of modern evolutionary theory, investigating controversies over common descent, natural selection, the fossil record, biogeography, information theory, evolutionary psychology, artificial intelligence, and the growing intelligent design movement.” Bethell is a philosophy graduate, despite which he repeats the myth [2] that Popper regarded evolution as mere tautology.

DarwinsDoubtGod vs. Darwin: The Logical Supremacy of Intelligent Design Creationism Over Evolution (M. S. King, 2015): “Ever since its inception, the edifice of Evolutionary Darwinism has rested upon a foundation of sand, propped up solely by media hype, public ignorance and extreme intellectual bullying.”

Darwin’s Doubt (Meyer, 2013) For the fashioning of this phrase in the creationist quote mine, see here. For Donald Prothero‘s devastating review of the book, see here.

Dehumanization: A Product of Darwinism (David Campbell, 2012)

The Dark Side of Charles Darwin (Jerry Bergman, 2011) Blurb: “A single man stands behind the greatest deception in history.”

Evolution by Intelligent Design: Debate is Over – Darwinism is Extinct (Gabor Lingauer, 2011)

The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies Charles Darwin by [Wiker, Benjamin]The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays (David Berlinski, 2010; I have written about Berlinski here)

What Darwin Got Wrong (Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, 2010) Apparently based on confusion between mutation, source of novelty, and selection, imposer of value.

The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Benjamin Wiker, 2009)

Exposing Darwinism’s Weakest Link: Why Evolution Can’t Explain Human Existence (Kenneth Poppe, 2008)

Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against NeoDarwinism, (Stephen C. Meyer, Scott Minnich, Jonathan Moneymaker and Paul A. Nelson, 2007; this fraudulently misnamed creationist pseudo-texbook is discussed further here on the Briths Centre for Science Education website.

Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots (Ken Ham and A. Charles Ware, 2007)

The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (Michael Behe, 2007; since Behe clearly believes that biological complexity is the work of a designer who operates independently of natural laws, I include him as a creationist, although he would deny this)

DarwinDayInAmericaDarwin Day In America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science  John G. West, 2007)

Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design (Thomas Woodward, 2007)

Darwin’s Nemesis: Phillip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement (William A. Dembski and Rick Santorum, 2006)

Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design (Thomas Woodward and William Dembski , 2006)

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Jonathan Wells, 2006)

Reclaiming Science from Darwinism: A Clear Understanding of Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, (Kenneth Poppe, 2006)

The Naked Emperor: Darwinism Exposed (Antony Latham, 2005)

Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing (William A. Dembski, 2004)

What Darwin Didn’t Know: A Doctor Dissects the Theory of Evolution (Geoffrey Simmons, 2004) Blurb: What Darwin Didn’t Know shows the human body to be a marvellous system constructed by an infinitely wise Designer.

DarwinismDesignDarwinism, Design and Public Education (John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, 2003) Blurb: if science education is to be other than state-sponsored propaganda, a distinction must be drawn between empirical science and materialist philosophy.

Darwinism and the Rise of Degenerate Science (Paul Back, 2003) Blurb: many of the constructs of evolution are based on fantasies devoid of scientific credibility.

The Collapse of Darwinism: Or The Rise of a Realist Theory of Life (Graeme D. Snooks, 2003)

Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory (Michael A. Cremo, 2003)

The Case Against Darwin: Why the Evidence Should Be Examined (James Perloff, 2002)

Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Benjamin Wiker and William Dembski (Jul 12, 2002) Abortion. Euthanasia. Infanticide. Sexual promiscuity. And it’s all Darwin’s fault.

Darwinism Under The Microscope: How recent scientific evidence points to divine design (James P. Gills, 2002)

Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Cornelius G. Hunter, 2002) It’s just an excuse for atheism.

Darwin’s Demise (Md. Comninellis Nicholas and Joe White, 2001)

Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (Richard Milton, 2000)

WahtsDarwinGotWhat’s Darwin Got to Do with It?: A Friendly Discussion About Evolution (between a bright young creationist and a stuffy stooge; Robert C. Newman, John L. Wiester and Janet Moneymaker, 2000)

Darwinism Defeated? (J. I. Packer, Phillip E. Johnson and Denis O. Lamoureux, 1999) (Lamoureux says no, by the way)

Evolution Deceit: The Scientific Collapse of Darwinism (Harun Yahya and Mustapha Ahmad, 1999)

Tornado in a Junkyard: The Relentless Myth of Darwinism (James Perloff, 1999)

Darwin’s Leap of Faith: Exposing the False Religion of Evolution (John Ankerberg and John Weldon, 1998)

Darwin’s Enigma (Luther Sunderland, 1998) Blurb: No legitimate fossil evidence exists that shows one species changing into another

Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Phillip E. Johnson, 1997)

Darwin’s Black Box (Michael Behe, 1996)

TheRefutationIn the Minds of Men: Darwin and the New World Order (Ian T. Taylor, 1996) Blurb: Creation Moments is pleased to bring you what has been hailed as the classic work on the creation-evolution issue!

Darwinism, Science or Philosophy? (Phillip E. Johnson et al., 1994)

Darwin on Trial (Phillip E. Johnson, 1991)

Darwinism : The Refutation of a Myth (Soren Lovtrup, 1987)

And so on, all the way back to The Refutation of Darwinism: And the Converse Theory of Development; Based Exclusively Upon Darwin’s Facts (T Warren O’Neill, 1879)

This version is an expansion of what appeared on 3 Quarks Daily, 6 Feb 2017

1] Betsy DeVos herself has not ccommented publicly on the issue. When asked about junk science teaching at her confirmation hearing, she said that she supports science teaching that “allows students to exercise critical thinking.” In the US,this unexceptionable objective is code for teaching, as if scientifically valid, denialist objections to evolution and climate change science.

2] At one point, Popper described Darwinism as “not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme—a possible framework for testable scientific theories.” However, as other passages show, he is using “Darwinism” here in its proper restrictive sense of the theory that evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest. Popper repeatedly made clear his acceptance of the historical fact of evolution; for a full discussion see here.

Even on his birthday, don’t say Darwin unless you mean it

DarwinsTree

From Darwin’s Notebook B, 1837

How Darwin’s name is taken in vain, with mini-reviews of some of the worst offenders

Don’t say Darwin unless you mean it. Above all, don’t say “Darwin” when you mean “evolution”. It’s like saying “Dalton” when you mean atoms. Our understanding of atoms has moved on enormously since Dalton’s time, and our understanding of evolution has moved on similarly since Darwin’s. Neither of them knew, or could have known, the first thing regarding what they were talking about, and both would be delighted at how thoroughly their own work has been superseded. (Dalton of course deserves further discussion in his own right, which I will be providing in a few weeks time.)

DaltonsAtoms

From John Dalton’s A New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808)

Imagine if a lot of people decided that atomic theory was against their religion. We would see a parallel world of sacred science, in which molecules were “intelligently constructed”, and real chemistry would be referred to as Daltonism, or possibly, these days, neo-Daltonism. The scientific dissidents from Daltonism would invoke Dalton’s name on every possible occasion, and draw attention to the many inadequacies of atomic theory as he presented it in 1808. Dalton didn’t know anything about the forces that hold atoms together, which depend on electrons and quantum mechanics. In fact, he didn’t even know about electrons. He was muddled about the difference between a molecule of hydrogen and an atom of hydrogen. He thought that the simplest compound between two different elements A and B would have the formula AB, so that water must be HO, not H2O. And of course he knew nothing about the origin of atoms, a problem not solved until the 1950s, over a century after his death. Obvious nonsense, the lot of it!

Darwin was ignorant of transitional fossils, and in words still quoted by creationists deplored their absence as the greatest objection to his theory. He was equally ignorant about the origin of biological novelty, which comes from mutating genes. In fact, he didn’t even know about genes. And because he did not realise that inheritance occurred through genes, he could not explain why favourable variations were not simply diluted out. It would be decades after his death before we could even speculate coherently about the origins of life, and despite tantalising clues it remains a largely unsolved problem. But despite this, we have learnt an enormous amount since the publication of On The Origin of Species, and everything that we have learnt is consistent with, indeed requires, the key concepts of evolution and common descent.

ExploreEvolutionSo why is discussion of evolution still saturated with Darwin’s name? In part, I think, because that’s the way his opponents want it. By identifying evolution with Darwin, they continue to breathe life into the controversies of the mid-19th century. At the same time, it helps them pretend that modern biology is just one individual’s point of view, rather than a mature science based on the work of thousands of investigators. Very recently, creationists have taken to invoking Darwin himself for their cause, in such titles as Darwin’s Doubt and Darwin Strikes Back. This is an extremely powerful rhetorical tool; if Darwin was puzzled by [whatever], is that not a puzzle to us “Darwinists”? Closely related is the device of presenting creationism under the guise of even-handed debate, as when a creationist pseudo-textbook (which mentions Darwin on almost every page, but not in the index) calls itself Explore Evolution; the arguments for and against neo-Darwinism, or in the list below, where a creationist comic goes by the name, What’s Darwin got to do with it? A friendly discussion …

And while we’re on the subject of unhelpful language, don’t say “theory of evolution” when you mean the well-established facts of historical and continuing change over time, and of common ancestry. And if you find yourself in the position of explaining the difference between a scientific theory (coherent intellectual structure developed to explain a range of observations), and the use of the word “theory” in everyday use (provisional hypothesis), you have blundered into a morass. Back out again.

BlackBoxBut back to Darwin. You can see what I mean if you just look at the names of the books written by the enemies of scientific biology, from Darwin’s Doubt (Meyer, 2013) back to Darwin’s Black Box (Behe, 1996) and beyond. There are other examples, such as The Darwin Conspiracy (Roy Davies, 2006), which portrays Darwin as a plagiarist, and, while checking its details, I discovered an even more lurid book of the same name by John Darnton, which portrays him as a murderer. To be fair, Darnton does not pretend that he is writing anything other than fiction, although surely he was writing with half an eye on the creationist market.

To further test my idea, I went online to Amazon.com, and typed “Darwin” and “Darwinism” in the search window (I regularly search on Amazon, but prefer to buy from The Book Depository or Wordery). Here are some of the books by creationists that I came up with; a lot of the names were all too familiar, but I never realized that Rick Santorum had actually got his name on a book.  There were also references to  “materialist neo-Darwinism”, but since I don’t pretend to know what a “materialist” is, and whether I or for that matter Darwin would qualify, I decided to let those ones go.

Darwin's DoubtGod vs. Darwin: The Logical Supremacy of Intelligent Design Creationism Over Evolution (M. S. King, 2015): “Ever since its inception, the edifice of Evolutionary Darwinism has rested upon a foundation of sand, propped up solely by media hype, public ignorance and extreme intellectual bullying.”

Darwin’s Doubt (Meyer, 2013) For the fashioning of this phrase in the creationist quote mine, see here. For Donald Prothero‘s devastating review of the book, see here.

Dehumanization: A Product of Darwinism (David Campbell, 2012)

The Dark Side of Charles Darwin (Jerry Bergman, 2011) Blurb: “A single man stands behind the greatest deception in history.”

Evolution by Intelligent Design: Debate is Over – Darwinism is Extinct (Gabor Lingauer, 2011)

The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays (David Berlinski, 2010; I have written about Berlinski here)

What Darwin Got Wrong (Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, 2010) Apparently based on confusion between mutation, source of novelty, and selection, imposer of value.

The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Benjamin Wiker, 2009) 

Exposing Darwinism’s Weakest Link: Why Evolution Can’t Explain Human Existence (Kenneth Poppe, 2008)

Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against NeoDarwinism, (Stephen C. Meyer, Scott Minnich, Jonathan Moneymaker and Paul A. Nelson, 2007; this fraudulently misnamed creationist pseudo-texbook is discussed further here)

Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots (Ken Ham and A. Charles Ware, 2007)

The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (Michael Behe, 2007; since Behe clearly believes that biological complexity is the work of a designer who operates independently of natural laws, I include him as a creationist, although he would deny this)

DarwinDayDarwin Day In America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science  John G. West, 2007)

Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design (Thomas Woodward, 2007)

Darwin’s Nemesis: Phillip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement (William A. Dembski and Rick Santorum, 2006)

Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design (Thomas Woodward and William Dembski , 2006)

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Jonathan Wells, 2006)

Reclaiming Science from Darwinism: A Clear Understanding of Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, (Kenneth Poppe, 2006)

The Naked Emperor: Darwinism Exposed (Antony Latham, 2005)

Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing (William A. Dembski, 2004)

What Darwin Didn’t Know: A Doctor Dissects the Theory of Evolution (Geoffrey Simmons, 2004) Blurb: What Darwin Didn’t Know shows the human body to be a marvelous system constructed by an infinitely wise Designer.

darwinismDesignDarwinism, Design and Public Education (John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, 2003) Blurb: if science education is to be other than state-sponsored propaganda, a distinction must be drawn between empirical science and materialist philosophy.

Darwinism and the Rise of Degenerate Science (Paul Back, 2003) Blurb: many of the constructs of evolution are based on fantasies devoid of scientific credibility.

The Collapse of Darwinism: Or The Rise of a Realist Theory of Life (Graeme D. Snooks, 2003)

Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory (Michael A. Cremo, 2003)

The Case Against Darwin: Why the Evidence Should Be Examined (James Perloff, 2002)

Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Benjamin Wiker and William Dembski (Jul 12, 2002) Abortion. Euthanasia. Infanticide. Sexual promiscuity. And it’s all Darwin’s fault.

Darwinism Under The Microscope: How recent scientific evidence points to divine design (James P. Gills, 2002)

Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Cornelius G. Hunter, 2002) It’s just an excuse for atheism.

Darwin’s Demise (Md. Comninellis Nicholas and Joe White, 2001)

Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (Richard Milton, 2000)

WhatsDarwinGotWhat’s Darwin Got to Do with It?: A Friendly Discussion About Evolution (between a bright young creationist and a stuffy stooge; Robert C. Newman, John L. Wiester and Janet Moneymaker, 2000)

Darwinism Defeated? (J. I. Packer, Phillip E. Johnson and Denis O. Lamoureux, 1999) (Lamoureux says no, by the way)

Evolution Deceit: The Scientific Collapse of Darwinism (Harun Yahya and Mustapha Ahmad, 1999)

Tornado in a Junkyard: The Relentless Myth of Darwinism (James Perloff, 1999)

Darwin’s Leap of Faith: Exposing the False Religion of Evolution (John Ankerberg and John Weldon, 1998)

Darwin’s Enigma (Luther Sunderland, 1998) Blurb: No legitimate fossil evidence exists that shows one species changing into another

Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Phillip E. Johnson, 1997)

Darwin’s Black Box (Michael Behe, 1996)

In the Minds of Men: Darwin and the New World Order (Ian T. Taylor, 1996) Blurb: Creation Moments is pleased to bring you what has been hailed as the classic work on the creation-evolution issue!

Darwinism, Science or Philosophy? (Phillip E. Johnson et al., 1994)

Darwin on Trial (Phillip E. Johnson, 1991)

Darwinism : The Refutation of a Myth (Soren Lovtrup, 1987)

And so on, all the way back to The Refutation of Darwinism: And the Converse Theory of Development; Based Exclusively Upon Darwin’s Facts (T Warren O’Neill, 1879)

A shorter version of this post appeared here in June 2013

The Church of England and Creationism.

Even William Jennings Bryan, at the 1925 Scopes Trial (of which more later), prosecuting under the law he had helped form that made teaching evolution illegal, admitted the probability of an ancient Earth. Now, infiltrating CofE and Church of Scotland, and overwhelming Baptist and Evangelical churches on both sides of the Atlantic, the absurdities of such Old Earth creationism have been replaced by a Young Earth “flood geology” creationism that is beyond absurd.

Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin

Caution Creationists3

I have been asked about creationist infiltration into the Church of England, which has only come about in the last forty years. By Creationism I means those who reckon the earth to be only thousands of years old and that evolution has not happened. I will not discuss Creationism as such, except to say it is scientifically worthless and wrong as well as being bad theology.

Well here goes.

First consider the make-up and history of the Church of England. Right from the beginning, i.e 1540s, it was not completely Protestant, and has been called a bone half-set. Elizabeth wished to retain both ultra-protestants and semi-papists, resulting in tensions for over a century culminating with the execution of William Laud and the Civil war. After the Restoration in 1662 the Latitudinarians (fore-runners of liberals) gained the influence but from the 1730s Evangelicals began their long reign. Until about 1790 they…

View original post 2,167 more words

Pluto, Patterns, and Predictions; Creationism as Self-contradiction

“Unfortunately, this evidence presents yet another problem for young-earth creationism. Not only would a dwarf-planet collision completely reshape the surfaces of both Pluto and Charon, but it would have taken tens of thousands of centuries for the system to settle into the perfectly-circular, dual-tidally-locked co-orbit we observe today.”

Not surprisingly, the Young Earth Creationists are heralding the smoth-ish surface of Pluto as evidence for a young solar system. It does not seem to worry them that if the absence of craters on Pluto is evidence for its recent formation, then their presence throughout the rest of the Solar System is evidence for its antiquity. The post I am reblogging here presents yet more internal contradictions in the YEC description of Pluto, including the highlight that I quote above. And if you are willing to contradict yourself, you can, after a fashion, prove anything:

Nh-pluto-in-true-color_2x_JPEG.jpg (1800×1800)

Near-true-colour image composite of Pluto taken by the New Horizons spacecraft on 14 July 2015 from a distance of 450,000 kilometers (NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute)

Age of Rocks

Guest post by David MacMillan

One of the great things about being home schooled was the way every experience could become a learning opportunity. We were always ready to investigate new things and build on what we learned, and it’s a habit that has remained with me for the rest of my life.

As a young-earth creationist, on the other hand, I took this principle a little too far. Instead of treating new scientific discoveries as exciting and valuable on their own, I felt obligated to find a way to turn them into evidence for creationism. Any new finding, no matter how obscure, demanded that I leap in with my “biblical glasses” and show how any discovery could be shoehorned into the creationist model.

Pluto surface Closeup view of Pluto’s surface, taken by the New Horizon spacecraft.

It’s a familiar pattern. Creationist organizations have earned a reputation for seizing upon every…

View original post 1,601 more words

‘Stone Age’ tools are a problem for YEC; but Noah’s Flood solves everything

(Reblog of Terry Mortenson concedes: ‘Stone Age’ tools are a problem for YEC, Age of Rocks) Lava flows across Antrim? Blame Noah’s Flood. Palaeosols in between them? Noah’s Flood again. Moving continents? Obviously the result of Noah’s Flood. All those poor extinct dinosaurs (the ones that weren’t later exterminated by Nimrod the Mighty Hunter) – drowned in Noah’s Flood. And radiometric dates proving, by any sane standard, an ancient Earth? You guessed it; they don’t take account of the radiation associated with Noah’s Flood.

And now, with breathtaking disdain for reality, a Creationist explanation for the Palaeolithic toolmaker’s rubble that covers so much of Africa (but nowhere else). All produced by colliding rocks, during Noah’s Flood.

Wait a bit and we’ll be told that cratering on the Moon, Mars, and Mercury is somehow caused by Noah’s Flood. Come to think of it, we don’t even need to wait. There’s one school of Creationist thought, if you’ll forgive the oxymoron, the one behind Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm near Bristol, that says exactly that.

Age of Rocks

Answers in Genesis generally does well not to acknowledge its best critics, because doing so exposes their audience to the fact that theirs is a ministry rooted in pseudoscience, which is ultimately damaging to the cause of Christ. If we abhor the truth as it pertains to the natural world, how are we to persuade anyone that we hold the keys to God’s kingdom?

When AiG does respond, typically it is prefaced with caveats highlighting the ‘naturalistic’, ‘atheistic’, or ‘evolutionary’ assumptions that motivate their attackers. This strategy is effective in dismissing those like Richard Dawkins, who are not shy about such convictions, or Bill Nye, who—though less antagonistic—is still not a confessing Christian. However, as Terry Mortenson demonstrated yesterday, AiG cannot entirely ignore pleas from within the church, despite that it simultaneously informs their readers that most Christians—especially those holding advanced degrees in theology or the natural sciences—also describe creationist’s efforts as bad…

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Evolution, Creationism, and Christianity; what teachers need to know

I have assembled a team to help prepare materials about evolution for the use of non-biologists, and we would welcome comments and suggestions. The topic arises in Religious Education in particular, hence the title of this post. Most of the material here is borrowed from an article by the Reverend Michael Roberts, retired Anglican Vicar, field geologist, School Governor, historian of ideas, and part of the team. But first, some background.

Recent developments increase the importance of what Michael has to say. The Society for Biology made two recommendations in its recent evidence to the Scottish Parliament. One, now incorporated into the stated Governmental position, was that creationism not be taught in a science class since it is not a scientific theory. The other was expressed as follows:

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…

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.

The issues raised here are not confined to the science classroom, nor to Scotland. Religious reactions to such nineteenth century discoveries as the antiquity of the Earth, and the evolutionary relationships between living things, are and should be topics for discussion in the study of religion and of the history of ideas. Indeed, Creationism is singled out as a sub-topic in Scottish schools, as part of the syllabus for Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies (RMPS). My own view is that an emphasis on Creationism in particular is unfortunate, since this is the most contentious, unhelpful, and indefensible of the various religious responses. There is also a real risk that discussion of the relationship between ideas might get sidetracked into irrelevant, and long since resolved, disputes about the underlying facts. But no doubt good teaching will supply the necessary balance.

Evolution is about to become part of the national curriculum in England, and non-specialist teachers there are urgently seeking helpful materials. No wonder, when one considers what is involved. Explaining evolution is a formidable task, not made any easier by the existence of a campaign of theologically motivated disinformation.

Teachers should of course be aware of the overwhelming scientific consensus in favour of accepting the facts of evolution and an ancient Earth, and know something of the lines of evidence that led to it, such as those mentioned by Michael below. It would also be an advantage to know something about the geological column, and radiometric dating. They should understand the concepts of natural selection and mutation, but preferably be aware that much if not most evolution is apparently neutral drift. Things being what they are, they must also be prepared to discuss the “objections” to evolution, such as why there are still monkeys, isn’t evolution only a theory, the alleged poverty of the fossil record, and the “problem” of the origin of new information. Here great care is needed. It is best for many reasons to let students come to their own conclusions, rather than be told what to think, and yet we are lying to them if we leave them with the impression that this is still an open controversy within science. Moreover, teaching with an emphasis on refuting arguments may prove counter-effective.

Finally, as if this were not enough, teachers should have some knowledge of the range of religious responses, and should realise that the Churches had generally accepted an ancient Earth and the fact of evolution by the end of the 19th Century.

Anyway, it is time to let Michael speak for himself, in the excerpts below. The full article is here. Michael is of course a Christian, and is mainly addressing his fellow-Christians, but I think that all of us can learn from what he has to say. There are things in his article that I like in it, and things that I don’t, and, in the spirit of intellectual enquiry, I will let interested readers work out for themselves which is which.

TAKING EVOLUTION AND CREATION SERIOUSLY (excerpted and lightly adapted from a blogpost by the Rev Michael Roberts, MA Geology, BA Theology, F.R. Hist. Soc, retired vicar, School Governor)

TAKING EVOLUTION SERIOUSLY

In essence, biological evolution means that all life is descended from a common ancestor, most popularly that we are descended from apes. Parodies and misunderstandings abound, and there is a prevalent view that evolution excludes creation and thus God.

The genius of Darwin in “The Origin of Species” (1859) was that he brought together previously unrelated aspects to biology; Variation and selection (leading to Natural Selection), the Geological Record, Geographical Distribution and the “Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings”. One of the main “gaps” in Darwin’s theory was the problem of inheritance or genetics. The solution to this was provided by Gregor Mendel in the 1860s but remained unknown until the turn of the century.

Genetics was what biologists were looking for and this resulted in the 1940s “Neodarwinian Synthesis” of Darwinianism and Mendelism. This has been further modified by such concepts as neutral drift (Kimura 1968), punctuated equilibrium (or stop-go evolution; Gould and Eldredge 1972), and molecular phylogeny (predominantly 1990s onwards). So our present science of evolution is far in advance of the original neo-Darwinian synthesis, let alone anything that Darwin himself could have imagined, and our appreciation of evolution has been both deepened and strengthened in the process. Evolution is regarded as much of a fact as the sphericity of the earth, – and rightly so!

To summarise the most obvious arguments for Evolution, these are

1) The Evidence of the Fossil Record.

400px-Geo_time

The geological record shows a progressive “appearance” of life. ; invertebrates with shells at the base of the Cambrian (550m.y.); Vertebrates (fish) in the middle Ordovician (460 m.y.); leading up to Mammals in the Jurassic (180 m.y.); and finally “Man” a few million years ago.

2) “Mutual Affinities”

There are great number of mutual affinities between all forms of life. For example the structure of all vertebrates have much in common. If, say, the fore limbs of a bird, a whale, a dog and a human are compared, they all have the same basic structure and are said to be homologous, and point to a common ancestor. Here is a diagram of homologies

tetrapodlimb

 

3) Geographical Distribution.

The oddities of geographical distribution were explained before Darwin by holding that God created different creatures in different places. Thus, for example in the Galapagos Islands, which Darwin visited when on the Beagle in 1834, God with would have created umpteen different finches on different islands. Evolutionarily this is seen as common ancestral finches living in isolation on different islands, and then diverging over subsequent generations. On a longer timescale lifeforms before the Mesozoic in Africa and South America were similar, but have diverged since then. The classic example is the Wallace Line in the middle of Indonesia. The reason became clear with the discovery of Continental Drift which demonstrated that the two continents started to move apart during the Mesozoic.

untitled

[To these one could add residual organs, evidence from embryology, defects of design, and the relationships shown by molecular biology, among other things, but this might overburden both class and teacher.]

This is a terribly brief summary of Evolution, but there are many excellent non-technical books, such as Why Evolution is True (Jerry Coyne), Your Inner Fish (Neil Shubin), and The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being (Alice Roberts).

TAKING CREATION SERIOUSLY

Open any childrens’ Bible on the first page and you are usually confronted with an idealised picture of a giraffes and lions on Noah’s Ark.

ararat_or_bust

Thus from an early age people are encouraged to believe in a literal six-24 hour day creation. This aids and abets youngsters to give up their faith at an early age, but the problem often persists to adulthood, leaving them with a nagging doubt that God could not have created the world, because Genesis is incompatible with science.

The Bible begins with the marvellous double “account” of Creation. I say double because Genesis 2 differs from Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is the best known with its structure of creation on six successive days. Approach it literally and you are in mess. Attempting to tie it in to scientific discovery always fails, as is inevitable as the Bible was “written” 3000 years before the rise of Geology. See it as a hymn to God the Creator and it comes to life. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The focus is on God, the Rock of Ages, not the ages of rocks. Again “And God said” occurs nine times as an introductory formula for God’s creativity. Ultimately Genesis One is a “Whodunnit” not a “Howdunnit”!

Ancient-Hebrew-view-of-universe

Genesis 1 and 2 are not the only parts of the bible, which speak of God the Creator. Take the last five chapters of the Book of Job, or Isaiah chapter 40 from verse 12, some of the Psalms especially 8, 19,and 95 (the Venite) to mention a few from the Old Testament, and John chapter 1 and Colossians Chapter 1 verses 15 to 20., both of which speak of a “Cosmic” Christ.

Taking Creation seriously is an affirmation that God is the Creator of all that is, with a realisation that the Bible gives no scientific explanation. Science will inform our understanding of Creation, not overthrow it.

Jacobus_ussher4004 B.C. AND ALL THAT.

In the margins of many old Bibles, we will find dates in years B.C. for the Old Testament. For Creation the date is 4004.B.C., and this date is usually ascribed to Archbishop Ussher of the seventeenth century. Up to 1650 most Jews and Christians reckoned the age of the earth to be a few thousands.

With the rise of scientists such as John Ray, Whiston and others before 1700 the earth was seen as somewhat older. The flowering of geology at the end of the eighteenth century, with Smith, Cuvier, de Saussure and Hutton, developed that further, and before long talk was of millions of years. Many of the early geologists were Anglican clergy and soon the churches took the vast age of the earth on board.

There were a minority of Christians who opposed geology, as did some of Faraday’s colleagues at the Royal Institution. However, by 1860 hardly any clergy or educated Christians believed in 4004.B.C. The Evangelical clergyman-astronomer Richard Main wrote, in 1862, “Some school-books still teach to the ignorant that the earth is 6,000 years old. No well-educated person of the present day shares that delusion.” (Alas, many share it in 2015!)

Bust of Hugh Miller (d. 1856) by William Brodie in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Miller was a prominent member of the Free Church of Scotland, and a geologist whose Testimony of the Rocks discarded biblical literalism as incompatible with the testimony of nature

Putting actual dates to the age of the universe, the earth or rock strata proved difficult,
even after biblical chronology was dethroned. Late 19th Century geologists favoured an age of around 100 million years, but radiometric dating proved this time much too short. For forty years now the age of the earth has been unchallenged at 4,600 million years, the oldest rocks at a little over 4,000 million, and the base of the Cambrian at 550 million. Such numbers are mind-boggling, but then so are black holes and the structure of the atom.

(Recently, Creationists have tried to demonstrate that the geological methods are fatally flawed, and that the earth is but a few thousand years young. Not one of the Creationist arguments has any substance to it. It is sad to be so negative, but Creationism is a confused hot-potch of bad science, misunderstanding and misrepresentation.)

The problems some have over geology is caused by a too literal view of the Bible, and not allowing the pre-scientific biblical writers to communicate truth about God in a non-literal way. It also does not recognise that most educated Christians never took Genesis literally!

[Michael goes on to speak of the absurdities of literalism, the apparent belittlement of human life by incorporating it in the animal sphere, the concept of humankind as made “in the image of God”, the differences between methodological and philosophical naturalism (I have a piece of my own on this), and evolution’s dismissal of the concept of a designer, as in Dawkins’ book The Blind Watchmaker.]

An atheist will see “design” as a chance happening, a theist will see “design” as a recognition that God is above and behind all things: The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork (Psalm 19, verse 1)

However, not all “design” is beautiful; some is frankly horrific. Darwin could not see the work of a Benevolent Designer in the Ichneumon fly. This lovely little creature lays its eggs inside a caterpillar. The eggs hatch and proceed to eat the caterpillar alive, keeping it so until the larvae emerge. “Design” does not point conclusively to a Good God. Thus

Beauty of (apparent) design is a problem to the atheist; Suffering is a problem to the Theist.

THIS VIEW OF LIFE (AND DEATH)

Of the evolutionary picture Darwin said, “There is grandeur in this view of life”. But he should have added “AND DEATH”. The natural world is incredibly wasteful of life; just consider frogspawn. The spawn will produce hundreds of tadpoles, and if TWO survive to become frogs and breed, that is success. Three is a population explosion. The fate of the tadpoles is varied, some, to the horror of children, are eaten by other tadpoles. Then, one of my joys in late spring is to hear the Cuckoo calling. The music of the adult is not matched by the morality of its offspring casually heaving out its adopted kin. Life is shot through with suffering and death. Nature is Red in Tooth and Claw. Human life is also often cruel and short. Surely “an all powerful, all-loving God simply would not allow small children to die in screaming agony” (Michael Ruse, Taking Darwin Seriously)? Suffering is the great problem, whether personal, intellectual, or religious.

Contrast this with Milton’s view (Paradise Lost) that all suffering is the result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Since the rise of geology in 1800, this view has been untenable, but it has not always been possible to bury it, especially in popular Christianity. Very often Milton’s view is accepted as the traditional view. As the admirable Bishop Colenso said in 1863, “We literally groan, even in the present day, under the burden of Milton’s mythology.”

We still do.

[Michael continues his discussion of the problem of evil, in highly personal ways. Does it make sense to blame Adam and Eve for the fact that children are dying today of malaria? This lets God off the hook, but at what cost? He invites us, instead, to share Darwin’s contemplation of the tangled bank, and sees science as a way of understanding and appreciating the work of the Creator.]

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; final submission to Scottish Parliament

Spencer Fildes and Paul Braterman giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee

This petition has already achieved more than we could have imagined. It has attracted major press coverage and comment in Scotland and beyond (details here and here), and a wide range of formal submissions, nearly all supportive (text of petition, official briefing, and submissions here). It has brought out into the open the entrenched position of creationists within the Scottish educational system, and further exposed the intellectual pretensions of the creationist Centre for Intelligent Design. I am sure that all MSPs were aware that there could be a political cost for attacking creationism. We have now shown that there is also a political cost for defending it.

Spencer and I testified before the Petitions Committee on November 11, 2014 (links to video and transcript here). The previous Committee had seriously considered killing the petition at that stage, but after a division that ran across party lines, decided to seek further input before reconsidering. Since then, there have been major personnel changes on the Committee; hence the need for us to go over in this Submission what will for some be familiar ground.

The next meeting is on Tuesday 27th January, when the Committee can either close (i.e. kill) the petition, or, as we hope, forward it to the Education Culture Committee. More news here as it becomes available.

Sincere thanks to all our friends and supporters, who have made this possible.

The version you see here is the one that is being presented to the Committee. The published version will as a matter of Parliamentary protocol omit certain details about individuals mentioned, but all these details have already been published, elsewhere, by the individuals or organisations concerned.

Scottish Secular Society, Petition PE01530, Final Submission

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

We are 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.  NB: “presentation” rather than “teaching”, since the problems generally arise from non-teacher visitors.

As the SPICe  briefing makes clear, this is a very modest request. A simple policy statement would suffice. We are NOT calling for legislation, the walling off of science (or RE) from other subjects, or the restriction of discussion. We are not attacking religion, and one of our strongest and most informed support messages comes from the Reverend Michael Roberts who writes for the British Centre for Science Education. We merely call for the issuing of guidance against presenting to schoolchildren as true what we all know to be false.

The petition, whose 651 signatories included three Nobel Prize winners and numerous parents, teachers, educators, and scientists, has aroused widespread interest across Scotland and beyond. It has generated widespread media interest with over 25 reports, features and articles (including one in Forbes), and concern about the damage creationism can do to science education. Individual responses have been overwhelmingly supportive, as have institutional submissions from scientific and science education bodies including the Society of Biology, the UK’s leading professional association for the life sciences.

The Scottish Government’s initial response, like that of EIS, assumes that adequate safeguards are already in place. We demonstrated to the PPC, and show here again, that they are not, and that creationist influence in schools is institutionalised. The remaining opposition, including the pseudoscience of “Intelligent Design” against which the Society of Biology warns explicitly, is from a small, well organised group of committed creationists who we believe enjoy disproportionate influence within our education system.

Inaction will be seen (as it has already been seen) by creationists worldwide as a licence to continue their activities, causing damage to Scottish education, and to Scotland’s proud reputation for the advancement of knowledge, on which so much of our economic future depends.  Our petition has attracted intense media attention, reflecting and amplifying deep public interest.  Many now await the PPC’s next steps, either with anticipative glee or with deep concern.

 CONSIDERATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

We respectfully suggest that the Committee forward our petition to the Education and Culture Committee, drawing attention to the following points emerging from the petition itself and the debate and submissions that it has stimulated:

  • The problem of creationist infiltration into schools and the need for guidance need to be recognised.
  • “Intelligent Design”, as currently presented, should be recognised as creationism in a pseudo-scientific disguise.
  • Good teaching and honest thinking both require that there be no artificial division between what is acceptable in science classes, and what is acceptable elsewhere. (Here we agree strongly with EIS.)
  • As recommended by the Society of Biology, teachers should be professionally encouraged to learn how to answer questions about creationism appropriately and sensitively. For example, RE teachers should be aware that creationism and ID are scientifically indefensible, while science teachers should be aware of the bogus nature of creationist pretensions to speak for religion as a whole.

 INTRODUCTION

Over the past few decades, some theologically conservative Protestants and Muslims have succumbed to the blandishments of “creation science” as such, or in the guise of “Intelligent Design”. As a result, there are numerous groups and individuals who under the labels of RE and RO gain access to schoolchildren, despite being committed to doctrines of separate creation and a young Earth that we all know to be false. This is a direct threat to the children’s understanding of biology and Earth sciences: their understanding of who they are and what kind of planet they live on. That this is done in the name of religion makes it no less harmful: on the contrary, it brings religion itself into disrepute. It is shameful that this is allowed to continue.

This is why we are compelled to act, and are, in the words of the abstract to our 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.”

We are not requesting much, and certainly not asking for legislation. We merely seek a simple statement, similar to those in force in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We warned that refusal to make such a statement would be regarded by creationists[i] as a licence to continue their activities. This has already happened; Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, now the world’s most prominent Young Earth Creationist organisation, has welcomed the Scottish Government’s initial refusal in three separate web postings,[ii] while Scottish creationists will regard it as a green light.

At the time when EIS and the Scottish government made its initial response to our petition, they did not have access to the most authoritative of responses, that from the Society of Biology, and we urge them to use this opportunity to rethink their position. Most organisations responding, and all but one[iii] of many individuals, have supported the petition. Such opposition as there is from organisations, including the Scottish Government, assumes that present arrangements are adequate; this is demonstrably not the case. (See Appendix).

The petition has attracted widespread interest in Scotland and beyond. We have logged over 25 press mentions,[iv] including one from Forbes magazine[v] warning of Intelligent Design as a vehicle for creationism that may well succeed in Scotland.

OVERVIEW OF RESPONSES

The most authoritative of responses (DD) is from the Society of Biology, the UK’s largest Life Sciences professional body, which strongly supports us. This should be read both for its clear statement of the scientific issues, and for its sympathetic understanding of the problems facing teachers.

Out of 41 individual comments, 39 support the petition, one is opposed, and one too generalised to classify. Out of 43 written submissions, all but five support the petition; 34 of these are from individuals, all but one of whom write in support. These individual supporters include contributors with a range of experience and technical knowledge, and some of these speak from direct experience of the impact of creationist teaching in Scotland and elsewhere, while a former Edinburgh Head Teacher (Submission AA) speaks eloquently of creationist pressures and the need for the requested guidance.  Of the contrary submissions, one (individual) is curiously off-topic, while two (A, Dr Noble, writing for the creationist[vi] Centre for Intelligent Design whose activities are among those that give us concern, and X, Ken Cunningham, writing for School Leaders Scotland) originate from the same small biblical literalist Fellowship Church, Cartsbridge, where Cunningham is Secretary and Elder, while Noble is Elder and both are frequent sermon-givers. We do not understand why Cunningham failed to disclose this conflict of interest, nor how he managed to ascertain SLS members’ opinions in the very short time frame before his submission.

Regarding the pretensions of Intelligent Design (Submission A), note that the Society of Biology, like the guidance language at force in England, explicitly mentions Intelligent Design as a variety of creationism, an assessment confirmed by the content of Dr Noble’s own submission, despite his denials (see endnote vi). You can believe the Society of Biology, the Association for Science Education, the Royal Society, and the combined statements(L) of the world’s Learned and Scientific Societies or you can believe Dr Noble, but you cannot believe both, and if you believe the Society of Biology and other supportive bodies you must conclude that what Dr Noble and his colleagues wish to impart is contradictory to the basic concepts of present-day life science, concepts whose fundamental importance is recognised in the Curriculum for Excellence.

The only two contrary submissions of substance (Scottish Government and EIS; BB and CC) assert without evidence (as does Cunningham) that the guidance we speak of is not necessary because adequate safeguards are in place, through professional and Local Authority supervision. In reality, the safeguards referred to do not exist, information on the problem is fragmentary, young Earth creationists have privileged access to schools as visitors, volunteers, and chaplains, unelected young Earth creationists are embedded in the supervising Local Authority Education Committees, and some of the bodies responsible for local education have told us that they do not possess the relevant information. More details in Endnote vii, and Appendix.

Out of the five organisational comments in support, three are particularly noteworthy. The (US) National Centre for Science Education (Submission L) have extensive experience of the damaging effect of creationism on education. The submission (B) from the British Centre for Science Education comes from a respected historian of geology who is also a school Governor and an Anglican priest and retired vicar. Above all, the submission (DD) from the Society of Biology, the organisation best qualified to speak on the issue, gives the strongest possible support. This was submitted on 10th November, no doubt in the hope that it would be available to the Committee when it heard evidence on this Petition, but through a failure in the Clerks’ Office was not published until 17th December, meaning that it was not available to the Scottish Government, nor to EIS, when they prepared for their submissions. This in itself is sufficient reason for the Government and the EIS to reconsider. We urge the PPC to give particular attention to these three submissions above all others.

We believe the Committee wrote in November to the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association and the Association of Heads & Deputes in Scotland, but they have elected not to comment.

EIS AND SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT RESPONSES

We agree with the EIS that there should be no banning of discussion of particular beliefs, and that there must not be separate rules for different parts of the syllabus. However, the safeguards they refer to are illusory. They refer to the General Teaching Council for Scotland as enforcer of standards, but our major concern is that the relevant standards do not exist. They also invoke the Local Authority as employer, but at least five authorities[vii] (Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, N. Ayrshire, S. Lanarkshire, Western Isles) have unelected appointees of extremist young Earth creationist churches sitting on their education committees. Several authorities have told us that information about creationist visitors is not collected or not stored, and almost all have refused Freedom of Information requests for lists of chaplains’ church affiliations, on the grounds that these are personal data.

We also note, concerning EIS’s mandate to speak for the teaching profession, that six individual supporters of the petition identify themselves as teachers and educators, while the only individual writing in opposition makes no such claim.

Finally the Scottish Government response, prepared through an administrative failure without the benefit of the Society of Biology’s opinion, asserts that monitoring and safeguards are adequate. How can this be true when a fundamentalist Alabama-based sect was allowed to operate within a school (Kirktonholme) for eight years, with input into RE and RO, as well as individual tutoring and out-of-hours activities on school premises, only coming to light when children brought home materials stating that the Bible is literal historical truth, that scientists who deny this do so out of wickedness, and that dinosaur graveyards are evidence of Noah’s Flood?

The Scottish Government claims that this is not really a matter for the Government, but for teachers. This is unconvincing when its own submission is signed by “Head of Curriculum Unit, Learning Directorate”. It assures us that “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.” We hope that this does not imply an artificial distinction, against which EIS explicitly warns, between “science” and “non-science” activities. The Government claims, as does EIS (and SLS!) with no evidence or descriptive detail, that present safeguards and reporting procedures are adequate. How can they be when a handful of amateurs, with help from concerned parents, have unearthed problems of which officialdom seems blissfully ignorant? And in conclusion, we note that Education Scotland promises to continue to monitor the situation. We hope that they will regard our own evidence here as input to that monitoring, and take appropriate action, as we ask.

THE BROADER CONTEXT

Finally we note that the fact this is an issue at all is part of a larger problem, which has already come to the attention of the PPC at least twice, namely the embedded privilege of religion, including in the present context biblical literalist versions of religion, in the Scottish educational system. Thus we have three unelected representatives of religion on every Council Education Committee, including at least six Young Earth creationists; pupils are expected by default to attend Religious Observance which, despite protestations, is almost invariably confessional; and chaplains and chaplaincy teams play a role in developing the Religious Education programme, although this is supposed to be neutral between different worldviews. In a society as diverse as 21st century Scotland, this is surely unsustainable.

APPENDIX: SOME EXAMPLES OF CREATIONIST INFLUENCE OR ACTIVITY IN SCOTTISH SCHOOLS

Although EIS refers to council authority Education Committees as a safeguard, these committees include, in Scotland, three appointees representing religion. One or more such appointees are from explicitly Creationist churches in at least 5 Councils (Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, N. Ayrshire, S. Lanarkshire, Western Isles), see Endnote vii.

There have been addresses by supporters of creationism (including ID) in Kelso High (source: Borders Council 2013), although in 2014 Borders reported that no such events had occurred in the previous 3 years), Bellahouston Academy (source: Glasgow City Council), and Williamwood (source: FaceBook posting), although East Renfrewshire Council denied knowledge of any such event.

Kirktonholme Primary pupils were handed textbooks that claimed that old Earth geology is a trick to discredit religion, that humans may have used dinosaurs as farm animals, and that there are human footprints in coal, among other gems. A chaplain linked to an Alabama creationist sect had been in place and advising on RE for 8 years.

Skerries School (a very small school since closed for unconnected reasons) showed US-supplied “creation science” material, despite being in a region (Shetland) that is among the least church-relating in Scotland. We do not regard this as major in itself, but as an indicator of the fragility of systems.

Five councils, when asked whether their schools had been visited by Centre for Intelligent Design or by Creation Ministries International, or “any other speakers who claim that macro-evolution is still speculative, or that the evidence supports separate creation over evolution, or a young Earth over an ancient Earth” said they did not hold the relevant information or did not fully answer as asked. (Source: FoI request responses). These were Fife, W Dunbartonshire, N. Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde. East Renfrewshire said they had had no such visits, evidently unaware of Rev Gordon Murray’s talk at Williamwood.

Western Isles reports with commendable frankness: “Ministers of religion will regularly visit schools as part of the churches’ contribution to religious observance or the Religious and Moral Education curriculum. Such visits occur weekly in many of our primary schools.  Although the topic for study or reflection may not always be ‘The Creation’, it is possible that discussions may arise from time to time. It is not possible for us to provide a confirmation of each local minister’s views on the topics you have referred to in this request. The Education & Children’s Services department would not hold this information.”

Highland reports: “Schools do not always keep records of these visits … Schools may also have associated chaplains who speak at assemblies or lead religious observance.  It is possible that chaplains might make reference to creationism, but this is not recorded by schools or the Council. The Council, therefore, unable to answer your question with any certainty.”

Glasgow City Council refused to reply to an enquiry about all schools (describing it as “too onerous”), but reported specifically on Secondary Schools (see note on Bellahouston Academy, above).

We hear a steady stream of reports of creationist activity and individual schools, although parents are understandably reluctant to complain about or publicise such matters. A school in Kirkcaldy had children paint a “Six Days of Creation” mural, and then denied having done so until challenged with photographic evidence (which we presented when submitting oral testimony and added to the records). We have also heard of the school in the Highlands with a “Creation Corner”, where children displayed such artwork. A parent asking “Where is Evolution Corner?” attracted hostile silence. Schools in Peterhead, according to a former teacher, have links to a wide range of ultra-creationist churches, including the US-based Living Waters.

Information on creationist chaplains is fragmentary, but we have some information from the churches themselves, or from what a few councils have seen fit to supply.  In North Lanarkshire, John Dick, who told a parent that evolution is ridiculous because 6,000 years wasn’t long enough for it, is a full time employee of Craighalbert Church, a fundamentalist fringe group with US Evangelical connections. His listed qualification is that he was saved as a child, and his Church says that he serves on the Chaplaincy teams of Cumbernauld Primary, Woodlands Primary, Glencryan High, and Cumbernauld High. Freedom City Church also supplies at least one school in North Lanarkshire, and the creationist freelance MAD (Making A Difference) Ministries has visited. South Lanarkshire when asked in 2013 had 19 separate representatives of creationist churches in its chaplaincy teams, not counting Scripture Union which is frequently although not necessarily creationist.

Challenger buses, of which there are now three, visit schools ostensibly to provide RE, but this RE includes hymn singing, which raises questions about how they see their role. It is run by People With A Mission Ministries, whose website portrays, with approval, young Earth creationist material supplied by Answers in Genesis.

None of this seems have come to the attention of the regulatory authorities, on whom EIS, SLS, and the Scottish Government are asking us to rely. This to us indicates deep structural inadequacies, which our petition seeks, in part, to address.

[i] By “creationism” we mean, throughout, the separate creation of different living kinds, in contrast with the established science of common descent. This should be clear from our Abstract.

[ii] Answers in Genesis, https://answersingenesis.org/theory-of-evolution/in-schools/academic-freedom-under-fire-scotland/http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/09/07/nobel-winning-scientists-push-for-ban-of-creation-in-scottish-schools/http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/12/23/scottish-government-rejects-creation-ban/

[iii] The only hostile individual submission, R, is an off-topic ad hominem attack and garbles the science.

[iv] http://wp.me/p21T1L-rt

[v] http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2014/12/30/creationism-in-europe-you-bet/

[vi] As Prof Braterman testified in person and in Submission C, the C4ID submission, A, is clearly creationist in that it denies that common ancestry (“macro evolution”) is established science and that the natural processes of evolution can give rise to new information. For a more detailed critique of C4ID’s “introductory pamphlet”, see http://robertsaunders.org.uk/wordpress/c4ids-introduction-to-intelligent-design-a-critique/ by Dr Robert Saunders, reader in Molecular Biology in the Open University (who also, in Submission J, endorses the points raised by Prof Braterman in Submission C), and http://wp.me/p21T1L-nY by Prof Braterman. Intelligent Design is also explicitly mentioned as a form of creationism in the authoritative Submission DD, from the Society of Biology.

[vii] http://wp.me/p21T1L-8W and links therein to the Churches’ own statements

Glasgow’s Intelligent Design Director has ”open mind” on age of Earth

Al Furqan Mosque, Glasgow, in whose Community Hall Dr Noble spoke last Friday (November 28) on ‘Intelligent Design: Myth or Reality?’

See how many errors of fact and logic you can find in what Dr Noble, Director of Glasgow’s own Centre for Intelligent Design, said when my friend and Scottish Secular Society colleague, Garry Otton, asked him about the age of the Earth. This was on the occasion of his visiting a mosque as part of the activities of Scotland’s Interfaith Council, which receives £9,000,000 a year of taxpayer money. I offering him  space to reply, but he tells me that “I really don’t think this kind of speculative trivia deserves a considered response.”

Dr Noble said that the scientific consensus is about 3 billion years old, but there is a lot of uncertainty about all scientific things and some think the Earth’s only thousands of years old. He thinks the Earth might be old, but human beings might be “much younger than most scientists would accept”. A geologist has shown him a piece of rock, dated as 300 million years old, but containing a seam of coal carbon-14 dated at 40,000 years. And carbon dating only goes back to around 50,000 years, so [he said with heavy emphasis] “the error is not in the date of the coal.” All methods depend on judgements about initial conditions that we have no way of knowing. The scientific consensus can be very arrogant, so he doesn’t have a serious problem with an old Earth, but is not completely convinced.

Here is my list of errors; let me know if you spot others:

First, and least important, that number, 3 billion years. It should of course be around 4. 5 billion years.

From the fact that carbon-14 is useless beyond 50,000 years, Dr Noble infers that the error is “not in the date of the coal.” The exact opposite is true. The 50,000 limit is the limit of the method, showing that it cannot be used for more ancient deposits.

Actually, it has long been known that ancient coal cannot be dated by carbon-14, because it gives spurious and erratic young(ish) ages, between 20,000 and 50,000 years. This has thwarted attempts to use it as a standard background (see e.g. this 1939 paper). One percent contamination by contemporary material of the area sampled will reduce the apparent age to less than the 40,000 years that Dr Noble quotes, and other potential problems include the presence of modern bacteria (well established by 1931) and carbon-14 generation in the coal from the nitrogen-14 present, as an indirect effect of the radioactive decay of heavy elements in the coal.

I don’t know where Dr Noble got his numbers from, but they are identical with those quoted in a 2002 Talkorigins article, which discusses and dismisses the alleged anomaly. A fuller and more recent critical analysis of claims of detecting carbon-14 in ancient materials  can be found at http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/carbon-kb.htm#22 (ASA in this address stands for American Scientific Affiliation, an organisation of Christians who reject attempts such as Dr Noble’s to discard the plain science of evolution and an ancient Earth; the author, Kirk Bertsche, holds a Ph.D. for his work on radiocarbon methods, and an MA in Exegetical Theology from Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon).

As for our judgments about initial conditions, we can check these in at least four separate ways. Firstly, careful mineralogy, picking out well isolated samples or even well-defined individual crystallites. Secondly, available since the 1940s, what are known as isochron methods, which use non-radiogenic isotopes as internal markers. Thirdly, SHRIMP (sensitive high resolution ion microprobe) methods, available since 1980, which allow assessment even of selected regions within crystallites, giving valuable information about thermal history and element mobility; I have a friend who does this for a living. Finally, the good agreement of disparate methods (this was mentioned to Dr Noble) provides cross-validation, and the rare occasions when this does not occur (for example in rocks with anomalously young potassium-argon ages) are themselves highly informative (in this example, regarding subsequent heating episodes). Radiometric Dating, A Christian Perspective, by Roger Wiens,  principal investigator of the Mars Curiosity Rover’s chemical laser analysis team, gives an excellent perspective on this and other alleged problems.

It is just not true that there is a lot of uncertainty about all scientific things. There is no real uncertainty about the age of the Earth, any more than there is real uncertainty about the existence of the atoms of which it is composed. Dr Noble himself would be very upset if I were to allege that there is a lot of uncertainty about the abstruse area of inorganic chemistry in which he obtained his own Ph.D. over 40 years ago.[1] And yes, we should keep an open mind, but not so open that our brains fall out.[2]

So how did Dr Noble, who evidently still thinks of himself as a scientist, come to make such a concatenation of elementary errors? I would suggest confirmation bias, selecting evidence that supports a view already adopted for very different reasons. And in this case, that view is identified by his wish to take seriously the possibility that human beings might be “much younger than most scientists would accept”. Dr Noble belongs to a church that believes in the “entire trustworthiness” of Scripture, and perhaps he looks kindly on the idea that human beings were specially created in the past few thousand years. But if this is the case, the biological science that shows we are sister species to chimpanzees, and the Earth science that dates undeniably human skulls back to more than 100,000 years ago, must be denounced as unreliable. The rest follows.

Added note: Some commentators have inferred that Dr Noble is a six-day creationist. I, however, interpret his careful distinction between the age of the Earth and the age of humanity a showing a more broad-minded perspective than that, one which also grants credibility to day-age and gap versions of creationism.  Here day-age accepts the order of events in Genesis, but allows that each “day” may refer to an era. “Gap” allows geological tme in between Genesis 1:1 and Genesi 1:2. Both were originally attempts by conservative theologians to accommodate biblical literalism to early 19th century geology, and both, crucially, accept a historical Eden a few thousand years ago, and separate creation of kinds. I deliberately chose impeccably Christian sources for the geological background, to highlight the possibility that Dr Noble’s hermeneutics may be as selective as his geology.

1] The Preparation and Properties of Tungsten Hexafluoride Derivatives, Glasgow, 1970.

2] For the history of this phrase see here.

Scotland’s Kitzmiller; we need your help

You may well know of the petition seeking to keep evolution denial from being taught as valid viewpoint in Scottish schools. You may not know of the full horror of the Centre for Intelligent Design’s submission to the Petitions Committee, which raises the stakes by claiming that macroevolution (i.e. common descent) is “unobserved and speculative”, and that students should therefore be made aware of the challenge that Intelligent Design poses to what it calls “Neo-Darwinism”.

C4ID, a close affiliate of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, and clearly committed to its notorious Wedge Strategy, is asking for a licence to present Intelligent Design to schoolchildren as legitimate science. I will be accompanying Spencer Fildes to the Petitions Committee hearing on November 11, charged with the task of defending science from this attack, and convincing the Committee that Intelligent Design is non-science, in what has suddenly turned into Scotland’s version of Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.

We need your help.

If you live outside Scotland, please email the Committee at petitions@scottish.parliament.uk stating your views, and why the issue matters to you. If in Scotland, then in addition to him, please write to your constituency and regional MSPs. For how to contact them (very easy), and my suggestions about how to go about this, see the Letter Writing Suggestions below.

These letters make a difference. Those who deny evolution are constituency. We need to show our lawmakers that we are constituency too. And every letter counts; I heard a senior politician explain that 20 letters to a Member are a lot.

NOW is the time to act, so that these emails are in the MSP’s in-trays in the few days remaining before they consider our petition on Tuesday.

It would be useful for me to have a copy (send to psbraterman@yahoo.com), but not essential. It would be very helpful to have copies of any reply you get.

Thanks. We need all the help we can get.

LETTER WRITING SUGGESTIONS

ALL SUPPORTERS: email petitions@scottish.parliament.uk

Essential: specify that you are writing in support of Petition PE01530. The full text of the petition is at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/petitionPDF/PE01530.pdf

SUPPORTERS INSIDE SCOTLAND: in addition, go to https://www.writetothem.com/

This will give you the names of your constituency and regional MSPs. Click on a name and a letter-writing form will open. (Hint: use cut-and-paste, Control-V and control-C, to recopy the same message to each MSP). Do not write to your Westminster MP; education is devolved.

ALL SUPPORTERS: Compose your message (Hint: use cut-and-paste, Control-V and control-C, to re-copy the same message to each MSP)

Notice that the expressions “evolution denial” and “separate creationism” are probably better than the more respectable-sounding “creationism”.

Keep it short. The most important part from the politician’s point of view is the simple fact that you have bothered to write.

Some points you may want to include:

Mention if you are a teacher, parent, school pupil, scientist, or any other relevant fact. Attach any degree etc letters to your name.

Very useful: any examples you personally know of, of evolution denial or young Earth doctrines presented as possibly true in publicly funded schools

Do NOT attack religion. This is not about religion. It is about not lying to children.

The importance of science to Scotland’s future.

The fact that evolution, common ancestry, and an ancient Earth are fundamental well-established principles of the life sciences and Earth sciences.

DinoPicAaKnown examples of anti-scientific activity, such as the handing out of anti-science books in school assembly at Kirktonholme; the Challenger bus, run by an organisation that supports the extreme Young Earth separate creationist Answers in Genesis; schools staging “debates” giving evolution denial equal consideration with genuine science; and well-funded evolution denial groups such as Creation Ministries International, Truth in Science, and Centre for Intelligent Design active or seeking to become active in our schools (more details here).

Such activities directly undermine the teaching of science and often include directly accusing mainstream scientists of dishonesty.

The petition has already gathered international attention, including support from the (US) National Center for Science Education (see here)

For additional material, if needed(!), see the petition itself,  the most recent Scottish Secular Society Press release, and links therein.

Thanks again for your help.

Links to science-denying sites are nofollow

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