The Finnie bill seeks to abolish the unelected Church representatives on school education committees. It seems that the Labour response, and perhaps others, will be influenced by public reaction; and YOU are the public. The attached letter from Drew Smith, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, shows how important it is right now to respond to the consultation document, at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/69470.aspx, and to write to your MSPs, Constituency and Regional, making your views known. My own response, which may give you a useful starting point, is here.
We have the chance to get rid of the unelected mixture of hellfire fundamentalists, bishops’ puppets, and well-meaning ecclesiastical placemen who now hold the balance of power on 19 of Scotland‘s 32 education Committees. As to why this matters, see here and here and here. This change will not happen without pressure, since no one, least of all those who think they know the way to Heaven, gives up power without a fight; see here for my take on the Churches’ counter-arguments.
Here is Drew Smith’s letter. Note his carefully chosen words: “Whilst I strongly support the principle of local government transparency and accountability, the Bill is currently out for consultation, and I think it would be unfair to prejudge the outcome of this process. I would therefore encourage you to respond to the consultation”. My interpretation; he is sympathetic but needs to convince his colleagues of the balance of electoral advantage. They, after all, unlike the Church representatives, serve only at the pleasure of the voters:-
Dear Professor Braterman,
Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding the proposed Local Government Accountability and Transparency (Scotland) Bill, put forward by John Finnie MSP. Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in responding to you.
I understand that the Bill seeks to remove the obligation on local authorities to appoint religious representatives to Education Committees. Whilst I strongly support the principle of local government transparency and accountability, the Bill is currently out for consultation, and I think it would be unfair to prejudge the outcome of this process.
I would therefore encourage you to respond to the consultation, which closes on 27 January 2013, to make your views known. I have attached the consultation for your information, and further information regarding the proposed Bill and consultation process can be accessed on the Scottish Parliament website: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/69470.aspx.
Please be assured that I will look to the consultation and give careful consideration to all views expressed on this matter before reaching a decision on whether or not to support a bill, if it is brought forward by Mr Finnie.
Thank you for taking the time to contact me about this important issue, and I hope you will accept my apologies, once again, for the delay in responding to you.
Drew Smith MSP
Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution
Scottish Labour Party
Glasgow Region Parliamentary Office │ Scottish Trades Union Centre │ 333 Woodlands Road │ Glasgow G3 6NG
telephone: 0141 218 46 46 │ facebook: Drew Smith for Glasgow │ twitter: @DrewSm1th
From Louisiana through the Discovery Institute to Glasgow, examples of the creationist obsession with Darwin (and inability to quote him correctly) continue to accumulate.
You may have heard of the Louisiana Science Education Act (how’s that for protective colouring?), which allows creationism to be taught in the State’s publicly funded schools in the name of “academic freedom.” The law was apparently suggested to State Senator Ben Nevers by the Lousiana Family Forum, whose upcoming Leadership Academy, to be addressed by Governor Bobby Jindal, promises to “teach you how to defend Conservative principles within policy!” (Exclamation mark in original. I set the last two links at “No-Follow”)
And now here’s the bit that’s relevant to my theme, courtesy Zack Kopplin. To quote Sen. Nevers, the Louisiana Family Forum “believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin’s theory.” So there are scientific data relevant to creationism (what, I wonder?), but a century and a half of evolutionary science are merely “Darwin’s theory”. As in, the Earth goes round the Sun in an elliptical orbit is “Kepler’s theory”, and stuff is made out of atoms is “Dalton’s theory”.
Stephen Meyers’ Darwin’s Doubt uses similar tactics, from the title on in. The contents give us three references to Darwin in its 23 chapter and section headings; “Darwin’s Nemesis”, “After Darwin, What?”, and “The Post-Darwinian World and Self-Organisation”. Darwin’s name also occurs seven times on the book’s front flap. This (free view on Amazon) presents one short argument, to introduce one very long book, based on compressing the Ediacaran and Cambrian radiations, ignoring everything we know about the events leading up to them (see Robert Hazen’s Story of Earth for a good brief overview), and comparing the resulting mystification with the problem of the origin of life. The index gives ten subheadings and 21 page references for Darwin, and sixteen subheadings and 43 page references to “Darwinian evolutionary theory”. These include six to “Agassiz’ challenge”; that’s Louis Agassiz, who was generously acknowledged by Darwin for his discovery of the Ice Ages, and died 1873. And I nearly forgot: twentysix subheadings and 38 page references for “neo-Darwinism”. For comparison, Carl Zimmer and Douglas J. Emlen’s Evolution; Making Sense of Life (one of the few textbooks I have come across that is actually a pleasure to read) has 16 subheadings and 33 page references to Darwin. And for “Darwin’s theory”, “Darwinian theory”, or “neo-Darwinism”? None at all. Indeed, I cannot recall when I last came across those expressions, other than from a historian or a creationist.
And of course Glasgow’s own Centre for Intelligent Design, a Discovery Institute echo chamber, has done its poor best to support Stephen Meyer. How? By mangling Darwin to totally shift his emphasis, and refocus it on Meyer’s chosen pseudoproblem. You will find the full gory details here on my friend Robert Saunders’ blog, Wonderful Life. There is also more about Meyer’s book on the BCSE website; I discussed it here, but think Nick Matzke’s dismemberment may be impossible to improve on. Disclosure: I lectured about “Dalton’s theory”, though I didn’t call it that, to Alastair Noble, now the Centre’s Director, many years ago. I like to think my teaching has improved since then. But at least I wasn’t responsible for teaching him about biology, or geology, or complex systems theory, or elementary logic, so perhaps I shouldn’t blame myself too much for what he’s been up to since.
Calderglen High School, a publicly funded school in East Kilbride near Glasgow, has a seven-member chaplaincy team, which, according to the School’s website, “provides for the school a rich and key resource for the curriculum”. The team includes three representatives of Baptist churches, three from the Church of Scotland, and one, Dr. Nagy Iskander, from Westwoodhill Evangelical Church. Generally speaking, the Church of Scotland accepts scientific reality, while views within the Baptist churches vary. So what of Dr. Iskander, who holds the balance?
On the school website, he says
I am interested in Science and the Bible and always happy to tackle questions in this area, so please feel free to contact me about any questions regarding Science and the Christian faith.
What he does not say is that he is an out and out supporter of biblical literalism, singled out for praise by Answers in Genesis, and a welcome visitor and occasional speaker at Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in Kentucky, where you will learn that the fossil record is a result of Noah’s Flood, and that “Biblical history is the key to understanding dinosaurs.” You will also find on the AiG web site recorded lectures by Dr Iskander, in which he states that belief in the literal truth of Genesis is foundational to Christianity. As for the relationship between Science and the Bible, Dr. Iskander had this to say to his local newspaper, on the occasion of Answers in Genesis’ Scottish Conference this month:
Both the creationists and evolutionists have the same facts – we have the same earth, the same geological layers, the same fossils – but when we examine the facts we might come to different conclusions, depending on our starting point.
And in case you are charitable enough to see some wriggle room here (note that weasel word “might”) for reconciling science with Dr. Iskander’s view of religion, consider this, from his statement to a reporter from the [Glasgow] Sunday Herald:
Creation according to the Christian faith is a supernatural act of God, so it will not be repeated and we can’t test creation in the lab. Evolution needs to take place over millions of years and we cannot test that either. My view on this is we should mention everything – we should examine all the evidence and all the facts and have an open and civilised discussion about all of this without excluding one or the other.
In response, I cannot improve on the words of my friend Roger Downie, Professor of Zoological Education in a letter he sent to the Sunday Herald (published 16 June):
Your quotation from Dr Nagy Iskander illustrates why creationists should not be let near science classes. He said ‘Evolution needs to take place over millions of years and we cannot test that…’ On the contrary, evolution through Darwin and Wallace’s process of natural selection is happening all the time, sometimes quite quickly. Since Dr Iskander is said to be a surgeon, I would hope that he is fully aware of the evolution of the antibiotic resistance that has made hospital procedures so risky. Science advances through the testing of hypotheses and the accumulation of evidence. Both medicine and biology have greatly benefited from this process. I presume Dr Iskander’s medical practice is based on such advances, rather than the superstitions of previous times.
It is perhaps unkind to describe pre-scientific views as “superstitions” when considered in the context of their time. But to put such views forward today in the name of religion, as serious alternatives to scientific knowledge, brings religion itself into disrepute.
Who appointed Dr. Iskander to his position with the school? Were they aware of his Young Earth creationist views? What do the school’s own teachers, including both the science teachers and those who teach about religion, think of his role, and does he have any influence over their teaching? How often does he address the school, and on what subjects? Are parents notified of his views and influence? Do he and his fellow members of the Chaplaincy Panel receive any payments or reimbursements from the school? And does the school obtain any materials from a company called Christian Schools Scotland, of which he is a director?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but intend to find out by addressing a Freedom of Information request of the school. I will let you know what they say.
PS: Today’s small country viewing here is the Cayman Islands, population 55,000.
Illustration: Humans living peacefully before the Fall with vegetarian tyrannosaurs. Public domain photo of actual exhibit, through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_Museum_10.png
A few days ago I reported , cued by Garry Otton’s eye-witness account on the Scottish Secular Society web page, on a nightmarish “sex education” lecture delivered in Paisley, near Glasgow, to an audience of schoolchildren rounded up from all the Catholic schools in the district, by the abstinence-only campaigner Pam Stenzel. The story has since been picked up and further commented on by the Daily Record, a popular Glasgow-based newspaper with a circulation of over ¼ million, and featured on the BBC. You may recall that Ms Stenzel is based in California, and that her crusade (that seems to be the correct word) against sex outside one partnership per lifetime is endorsed by Sean Hannity and the Family Life Council. Also that she imposes her own very personal view on facts. Notably, she tells us that HPV can cause cancer, and that vaccination only protects against four of the many strains. True, and bound to be true, since the vaccine is, by design, specific against the strains most liable to cause cancer. Of course, if disease prevention were her real concern, she would be advocating Pap smears and condom use. But such reality-based information is not on her agenda.
So what has this got to do with evolution, and in particular with what we know about what Pam Stenzel has been told about evolution? Absolutely everything.
The only professional qualification mentioned on Ms Stenzel’s website is a degree in psychology, from Liberty University. This institution, founded by Jerry Falwell Sr. and rescued early in its life from bankruptcy by the Rev Sung Myung Moon, is regarded as among the most conservative institutions of higher education in the US. “Conservative” in this context means, among other things, commitment to a biblical literalist theology. Even more, in the case of LibertyUniversity; commitment to a version of reality in which Young Earth creationism is better science than all that stuff about radiometric dating and strata and unconformities and deep time that stupid people like you and me find so convincing. This commitment is embodied in an Institution for Creation Studies (yes, that really is what it is called), whose course “History of Life” is obligatory for all students, and whose stated function (http://www.liberty.edu/academics/?PID=9821) is “to promote the development of a consistent biblical view of origins in our students. The center seeks to equip students to defend their faith in the creation account in Genesis using science, reason and the Scriptures.”
So Ms Stenzel may not have learned very much about the biology of sexually transmitted diseases, but she will certainly have learned how to use what she does know to defend a pre-determined faith-based position. This is called, in the language that Liberty University uses to describe its position on the age of the earth, “perspective”. She has faith that God has told us that having more than one sexual partner in a lifetime is wrong (He doesn’t seem to have given quite the same message to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but let that pass). So this is the conclusion, and it only remains to muster the evidence. The resulting concatenation of half-baked horror stories may only occasionally make contact with reality, but that’s not the point; it defends her faith, and that is the one thing that she has been admirably equipped to do. Nor, I’m sure, is she being consciously dishonest. There is black and white, right and wrong, safe and unsafe, so if condoms are not entirely safe (they’re not), we should not be telling young people to use them. On this logic, we shouldn’t be telling them to use seat belts, because they won’t always save your neck, and if everyone drove perfectly safely we wouldn’t need them, either.
Footnote: a few months ago, Jerry Coyne reported with justifiable pride that his site, Why Evolution is True, had just got its first hit from Greenland (population 56,000). On Wednesday, I got my own first hit from the Faroe Islands (population 49,000). Beat that, Jerry!
[Image source:JaxZoo_12-16-12-4579.jpg through http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bonobo_sexual_behavior_1.jpg This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.]