Blog Archives

Creationism in Scotland’s schools; our petition makes progress

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

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ·        SSS seek guidance on how creationism is presented in schools

·        PPC refer matter to E&CC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END

 Notes to Editors: –

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

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

Press release on Scottish Secular Society petition: –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Religion and Creationism in Schools: England, Scotland, and the US

In the US, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is generally agreed, despite the ravings of a few noisy radical revisionists, to imply that no Government-run institution, such as a public school, can advocate a religion or sponsor any kind of religious observance.

In the UK, the very opposite is the case (I would like to hear from readers about how this matter is handled in other countries). Schools are actually required to incorporate both Religious Education and Religious Observance into their timetables. Religious Observance means, in general, a school assembly with hymns and prayers, and may also include taking part in church services, and visits from ministers of religion. Religious Education, in theory at least, is something entirely different – a faith-neutral liberal arts subject, explaining without proselytising what the contents are of the world’s main religions, and how they respond to philosophical scrutiny. In practice, the teaching tends to be heavily weighted towards Christianity, which is perhaps well justified given Western cultural traditions. Less justifiable is a tendency to assume that Christianity is true, a difficult problem to avoid when most of those who opt to teach the subject will themselves be believers. There is also a very specific problem in primary schools, where the boundaries between different subjects is blurred, and where children hearing, for example, the story of Noah’s Ark will not know whether it belongs alongside the story of Little Red Riding Hood, or of dinosaurs, or somewhere else altogether.

In principle, parents (or, above a certain level, pupils) have the right to withdraw from Religious Observance and/or Religious Education. Reality on the ground is more complicated, if only because of bureaucratic hurdles, and the entire Religious Observance system is coming under increased critical scrutiny. I will report further on this as events unfold.

As a result of these different attitudes towards religion in schools, the tactics adopted by creationists in the US and  the UK are diametrically opposed (I discussed this on pandasthumb a couple of years ago). American creationists claim to be teaching the best available science, and support this claim by describing parallel universes, in which (for example) the fossil record is full of inexplicable gaps, while the Grand Canyon is readily explainable in terms of Noah’s flood. Pandering politicians then claim to be exposing schoolchildren to the best available science, or educating them by exposure to a concocted controversy. In England, officially at least, the authorities are having none of it. After some close questioning, in which I am proud to have played a part, the Education Secretary was pressured into describing himself as “crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact”, and the Department of Education also clearly states in its materials that it recognises Intelligent Design as a variety of creationism.

None of this, however, affects what happens in Religious Education, as long as it doesn’t claim to be science. So creationists in England, trying to smuggle their material into schools, will find it much easier if they can do so in the name of teaching about religion. This is a growing problem, in view of the current Government policy of establishing schools free from local authority control, many of them run by groups with religious affiliations. Then the way is open for pupils to be taught evolution as an examination requirement, while also hearing it that it is in conflict with the school’s preferred interpretation of Christianity, or (a recently emerging problem in England) that it is un-Koranic.

In Scotland, the situation is different again. Education is “devolved”, meaning that it is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, rather than the UK Parliament at Westminster. Evolution is in the syllabus, but when it comes to creationism and Intelligent Design the Scottish Qualifications Authority has repeatedly ignored calls from teachers and others requesting guidance similar to that on offer in England. The stated reason, incredibly, is that no such guidance is necessary, because creationism is not a problem in Scottish schools.[1] As for the actual motivation, that requires a little knowledge of the present state of Scottish society. Growing numbers of Scots, especially younger Scots, have no religious affiliation, and secular marriages (in Registry Offices, or carried out by recognized Humanist celebrants) outnumber religious marriages. On the other hand, Biblical literalism retains its hold in some areas, especially the Highlands and Islands, where a former Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland (not to be confused with the Church of Scotland, nor with the Free Presbyterian Church, or others with almost identical names) continues to describe evolution as “dangerous pseudoscience”. Scottish politics is in a state of flux, with the collapse of support for the Westminster coalition parties and an upcoming referendum on total independence, so the Education Minister in Edinburgh doesn’t want to upset anyone. But if he lets his civil servants says anything on the topic, someone is bound to be upset, and his only escape is to pretend that nothing needs to be said.

More later.


[1] SQA to me, 4 Nov 2010: “There is no evidence from HMIE [Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education] school inspections or other sources to suggest that creationism or ID is currently being taught in schools in Scotland.”

%d bloggers like this: