Blog Archives

On learning that the Iraqi government is dropping evolution from schoolbooks

This is how I appeared on Arabic-language Science News, أخبار العلوم – Science News, after a Facebook friend translated my remarks into Arabic

Teaching biology without mentioning evolution is like trying to teach chemistry without mentioning atoms. If you deny evolution, you have to deny the entire fossil record and also all the evidence of molecular biology. And evolution has nothing to do with religion. Within all the world’s great religions, there are thinkers who accept the evidence for evolution, and regard evolution itself as one of God’s creations. We do not allow scientists to tell religious leaders how to teach religion, so why should we allow religious leaders to tell scientists how to teach science?

The destroyed al-Nuri mosque and its gate in the old city of Mosul. Photograph: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images (via The Guardian)




Commenting on the recent decision by the Iraqi government to remove evolution from the school textbooks, I wrote these words to one of my many new-found Iraqi friends [1], a young man in Mosul now able to speak his mind after three years of Isis suppression; he then quoted me on Arabic-language Science News, أخبار العلوم – Science News, which has led in the first 12 hours to a brisk correspondence, more than a thousand likes, over fifty shares, and some not always friendly commentary in which chimpanzees feature prominently in my own assumed ancestry. I can only express my admiration for someone who, sheltering somehow in the ruins of that city, finds time to think of such things.

1] My piece on evolution in The Conversation was noticed by a Baghdad-based Arabic-language blog

A quick quality test for advice about Daesh

If anyone offers advice about Syria 2015, I suggest these simple tests:

  1. What advice did they give about Iraq 2003, and what do they think now about how that one worked out?
  2. Is there any reason to believe that they know anything about the subject?
  3. Does the advice make any kind of sense?

Let me apply these criteria to myself. in reverse order:

My advice, for what it’s worth, which is not much: Undecided on bombing in Syria. Before you kill a lot of bystanders and piss off a lot of the people that you eventually need to have on your side, it would be good to have a plan that shows that this will actually help any. Precedent is not good. Daesh oil sales, arms purchases, and sources of finance may be the best targets, and vulnerable to non-military attack.

I have no special knowledge of the subject.

I applauded the decision of Bush Sr. in 1991 not to march on Baghdad, not having any idea what the Alliance would do when it got there. I agreed with the American Chemical Society in 2002 that the evidence available for the claims of Iraqi WMD* (remember them?) was totally unsatisfactory, but that Saddam Hussein should be compelled to accept unfettered inspection. I completely opposed the decision to go to war after he had done exactly that, and quickly realised that the occupation was a disaster, but how great a disaster, in terms of the death toll in the Insurgency, subsequent internal breakdown, and the emergence of Daesh, I totally failed to foresee.

*There weren’t any, nor any short-term capacity to produce them.

%d bloggers like this: