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Why are some Christians Young Earth Creationists?

Young Earth Creationism is not just a belief, but proof of allegiance to a very special group, the Real Christians (or, I now fear, Real Jews or Real Muslims). Once a belief assumes this function, rational criticism is counter-effective.

(Of course you and I, dear reader, are not as others are, and would never allow our allegiances to shape our beliefs.)

Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin

It baffles many people whether Christian or not why some Christians are Young Earth Creationist, with a belief in a 10,000 year old earth and rejection of evolution. It cannot be denied that Young Earth Creationism has caused bad relationships among Christians, influenced education and results in much mockery from some. A major reason for the friction is that YEC’s claim explicitly or implicitly that the majority of Christians who accept modern science with the vast age of the earth and evolution are at best naughty or heretical Christians.

With YEC making inroads into churches (including the Church of England) and trying to call the shots over education in all parts of the world, it is best to know what they believe and why they do as they go against all scientific teaching and what most churches actually believe.

WHAT YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM IS;

As YEC attracted so much more heat than…

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Will Storr’s The Heretics [US: Unpersuadables], 1: Full Frontal Creationism, and other kinds of unreason

the-heretics-978033053586101Is this book worthy of your time and attention? Yes. But this is not a book review, so much as a conversation with myself, triggered by reading it, and what follows is as much mine as his, especially as I have focused on those chapters that overlap my own concerns. There is no shortage of writings debunking creationism, or homoeopathy, or others covered here, beliefs that fly in the face of massive evidence, and yet this evidence has no effect at all on their believers. Why is this, Storr asks. What is going on? And what makes us think that we ourselves are so different?

Storr starts by telling us of his meeting with John Mackay, a Young Earth creationist, who was talking to an appreciative audience in a small town in Queensland. This seems to have been his first encounter with the full-blooded version of modern creationism, according to which evolution science and old Earth geology are fundamentally unsound, and the Bible is the infallible word of God. At the end of Genesis 1, God speaks of His work as being “very good”. “Very good” must mean no pain, and no death. It follows that tigers and tyrannosaurs coexisted happily with Adam and Eve in Eden, all of them adhering to strictly vegetarian diets, until the Fall went and spoiled everything. And “Tonight, the choice you have to face up to is this – do you put your faith in Darwin, who wasn’t there? Or in God, who was?”

JurassicArk

Jurassic Ark theme park activities, Gympie, Australia, where Storr met Mackay. From Creation Research website.

Mackay claims to be able to feel the presence of God. What turned him against evolution, he says, was a biology textbook he was reading as an adolescent, which followed its exposition of evolution with a chapter advocating atheism. Unfortunately, he does not tell us which textbook he was referring to, giving me no way of checking his perspective, although such a chapter would of course be completely out of place in a biology textbook.

Mackay’s audience were universally sympathetic, a fact that Storr observed with bemusement that turned to dismay when, the following Sunday, Mackay mounted the pulpit to deliver a scathing attack on the wickedness of homosexuals and the compromising Churches who countenance their activities.

Mackay speaks proudly of debating with ordinary sane scientists or, as he would call them, evolutionists: “We frequently win public debates… They presume they will be fighting against theologians with no science degrees.” He himself has a degree in geology from Queensland, where he also took a class in genetics. As a teacher in a private school, he was able to promote creationism under the guise of “critical thinking”, comparing the claims of evolution and creationism as he saw them.  He met up with Ken Ham, a kindred spirit, and together they set up the Creation Science Foundation. Mackay was forced out after some bitter infighting, and now directs a relatively small outfit known as Creation Research. The Creation Science Foundation, meantime, has turned into Answers in Genesis, a multi-million organisation based mainly in the US, famous for its Creation Museum and Ark Encounter Theme Park.

I have no doubt of Mackay’s sincerity. His arguments against creationism will be depressingly familiar to anyone who has studied the subject. Didn’t Darwin himself complain about the inadequacy of the fossil record? Why don’t we ever observe intermediate species? What about polystrate fossils, tree trunks that project upwards through different geological layers, supposedly separated from them by huge banks of time?

“The first dinosaurs look like dinosaurs… The last ones look like dinosaurs too. So within that timeframe – even if you did put in a millions of years – they produce their own kind, just as Genesis says.”

Let me invite the reader to respond to Mackay’s arguments, and to answer a question of my own: if your last common ancestor with a flatfish was 430 million years ago, how long ago, roughly, was the last common ancestor of a flatfish and a frog? (Answers at end)

Storr is in no doubt that Mackay is completely misguided. And yet, he says of Mackay and others pursuing the unreasonable,

“There is something noble about their bald defiance of the ordinary, something heroic about the deep outsider-territories that they wilfully inhabit… I feel a kind of kinship with them. I am drawn to the wrong.”

Storr gives us, later, more detail about his own past than I intend to divulge about mine, beyond saying that I too have explored strange places of the mind, and entertained bizarre beliefs.

Later Storr discusses Mackay with Nathan Lo, an Assistant Professor at the University of Sydney, who describes creationism as appealing because very easy to understand, unlike evolution which requires time and thought. Lo dismisses the leaders of the creationist movement as just in it for the money, prompting the kind of observation that makes this book so interesting:

“Nathan Lo and I… see ourselves as the rational ones, the clean-sighted bringers of 21st-century reason. And yet both of us, I have come to believe, are mistaken. We are wrong about the wrong.”

He joins a group who are taking part in a 10-day programme of extremely rigorous meditation. Halfway through, a woman participant starts screaming in distress, but he does nothing to go to her aid. Why not? Excessive obedience to authority. Later, he compares himself to participants in Stanley Milgram’s famous electric shock experiment. Here, subjects were told that they were taking part in an experiment on the effects of punishment on learning, and believed that they were administering electric shocks to the learner, who was in the next room. The subjects obediently administered increasing shocks, even when the person in the next room (an actor) started screaming, and many went all the way up to levels of shock clearly labelled as lethal and not to be used. Then there was the strip-search scam, where a bogus policeman claims be investigating a reported theft, gives a vague description that the management applies to one of the waitresses, and that waitress is then told to strip naked and cavort, kiss the “policeman”, and even submit to spankings, in front of the manager, and her boyfriend acting as chaperone. And does what she is told, with neither manager nor boyfriend raising any questions. And this performance has been repeated in over 70 diners throughout the United States.

Excessive obedience, according to Storr, is but one of the many ways in which our brains differ from the standards of rational judgement that we naïvely believe ourselves to be applying. Notice that I said “differ from”, not “fall short of”. We are evolved animals, and the brain has more investment (if I may so put it) in seeing us survive and prosper in our societies, than in making us aware of objective truth. We are influenced by others, and if enough of our neighbours say so, we will actually come to see one line as being longer than another, even when our eyes plainly tell us that it is not.[1]

That’s the least of it. Storr finds himself forced to confront a much larger question, perhaps the largest question in the whole of philosophy: what really goes on inside our minds (or our brains; for me, as for Storr, these come to much the same thing) and how well does that enable us to cope with reality?

Storr deals with this question in a tightly argued (but, given the difficulty of the subject matter, surprisingly readable) chapter, of which I can do no more than convey the general favour. He quotes from Bruce Wexler’s book, Brain and Culture, which describes the brain and mind as highly plastic and shaping themselves to the environment, until early adulthood. From that stage onwards, the process is reversed, and “much of the [brain] activity is devoted to making the environment conformed to the established structures.” From which Storr draws the unpalatable conclusion:

“Your brain is surprisingly reluctant to change its mind. Rather than going through the difficulties involved in rearranging itself to reflect the truth, it often prefers to fool you. So it distorts. It forgets. It projects. It lies.”

This is true for the brain of the deluded creationist. And Storr’s brain. And yours. And mine. Our brains spend most of their time satisfying themselves that things are as we expect them to be, and spring into action (and denial) when this comfortable belief is disturbed.

Our entire sensory world is a construct. We see in three-colour vision, and our inner worlds are that extent richer than those of a skate, which has no colour vision at all, but poorer in ways we cannot even imagine than those of birds and insects that have up to six separate kinds of colour receptor. So colour is not something in the world, but a construct that we impose on it. Light itself has wavelength, but no colour. (Here Storr seems to me to be making a common philosophical error. When we are seeing normally, our colour vision is causally determined by the wavelengths of light impinging on our eyes, as well as by the way our brains process that information. Colour vision may encode only part of the information out there, and the particular code may be specific to humans, or even to individuals, but that does not invalidate the information obtained. But perhaps this is nitpicking.) Storr goes on to describe our inner world of perceptions as “A vision. A useful guess about what the [external] world might look like, that is built well enough that we are able to negotiate it successfully.” The point is that we do not handle reality, which is far too complex, but the model we make of it. Accuracy beyond what is needed is irrelevant for the serious business of surviving and reproducing, or even harmfully distracting.

Even our emotions are constructs, based on expectation. Depending on your culture, you will when drunk become more convivial, or more aggressive, or more sexually uninhibited, and some of these effects (I trust that no one tested for the last one I mentioned) can even be produced by alcohol-free fake drinks.

We deceive ourselves to protect our expectations without ever realising it. When told that a male applicant for the job of police chief has qualification A, while a female applicant has qualification B, most people will choose A as the more important qualification. Reverse the details, and most people will choose B. Ask them for their reasoning, and they will discuss the finely balanced choice between A and B on its merits, with no mention of gender. From the outside, it is clear that they regard police chief as a man’s kind of job, and pick the criterion that best fits this preconception, but they do not know that this is what they are doing.

We scrutinise arguments attacking our position much more closely, and reject them on much slimmer grounds, than those that support us. And if, in the end and, we cannot avoid the realisation of conflict, we experience the discomfort known as cognitive dissonance. We now have three choices; we can deny that the conflict really exists, or we can change our minds to accommodate the new evidence (the least likely outcome), or we can build a fence round our preconceptions, and hold on to our initial beliefs with more fervour than ever. This helps explain why debates about such topics as creationism, or the reality of global warming, get nowhere, and anyone who has taken part in such a debate will realise how annoyingly the arguments that we direct at the other side merely boomerang. It’s not fair. You just can’t reason with them. The most infuriating thing is that they actually seem to enjoy taking such absurd positions. And, if fMRI results are to be trusted, they don’t merely seem; when we strike a partisan posture, the pleasure centres in our brain light up. We are all, to use it Storr’s expression, “deluded egotists”, and, worst of all, we like it that way.

Storr’s next chapter is about a group of people that I belong to. He does not like them, and gives good reason for this. But that will have to wait for another post.

Appendix: And what about those objections to evolution?

Archaeopteryx

Vogt, C. 1880. Archaeopteryx macrura, an Intermediate Form between Birds and Reptiles. Ibis 4:434-456, via Wikipedia

Yes, Darwin complained of the inadequacy of the fossil record and the lack of intermediate forms, but we have dug up a lot of new information since 1859, when the first edition of The Origin of Species was published. By 1863, in time for the fourth edition, we had the discovery of Archaeopteryx and its identification as intermediate between birds and their reptilian ancestors. In fact, we now know Archaeopteryx to be a great-uncle, rather than a direct ancestor, of modern birds, but that is by comparison with hundreds of other intermediate forms, enabling us to establish a bird family tree rooted among one particular group of dinosaurs, with both extinct and surviving branches. There will always, of course, be missing links in the chain, but the existence of the chain itself is now undeniable. So far from being a criticism of the evolutionary account, Darwin’s complaint should be heralded as an implicit prediction, one that has been amply fulfilled.

Polystrate fossils are the expected results of rapid sedimentation, but so what? At one time there was thought to be a conflict between catastrophism, in which geological processes occurred with terrifying rapidity, and a uniformitarian gradualism according to which they were always slow, but both of these extremes had been abandoned by 1865.

And the time elapsed between the last common ancestor of a flatfish and a frog is exactly the same as the time elapsed since the last common ancestor of a flatfish and you, some 430 million years. If you don’t believe me, go to the Timetree website and check. Your last common ancestor with a frog is somewhat more recent, at around 355 million years before present, and deserves to be called a proto-amphibian because it superficially resembles the frog much more than it resembles you, but you and the frog have both, by definition, been evolving for the same length of time since then. True, the changes in your line of descent have been more dramatic, including the ability to give birth on land, development inside the womb, warmbloodedness, and big brains, but your now extinct reptile-like and lemur-like ancestors are intermediate, not between you and the present-day frog, but between you and that remote proto-amphibian common ancestor. The distinction is important but subtle, part of why evolution is so often misundertood.

As for Mackay’s claim that a dinosaur is a dinosaur is a dinosaur, this can only be based on self-inflicted ignorance. Diplodocus, Triceratops, and Tyrannosaur are at least as obviously different as a cow, a zebra, and a tiger. But for Mackay, these are all small matters, compared with his eternal salvation.

1] This is based on the behaviour of groups of students, asked to judge which of two lines was longer, and how the judgements were influenced by the opinions expressed by stooges pretending to be fellow-subjects. Storr refers to fMRI work suggesting that the students really were persuaded by their supposed colleagues, rather than deciding to go along with them, but as he says much of this kind of work is still highly controversial.

Adapted from an earlier post in 3 Quarks Daily

 

What Answers in Genesis believes

AiG spells out here the statement of faith required of all its employees and volunteers, updated August 10, 2015. I am delighted to learn that The Holy Spirit lives and works in each believer to produce the fruits of righteousness, of which the Creation Museum, the Ark Park, and Ken Ham’s personal fortune are examples.

It’s just as well that I’m a believer, because Those who do not believe in Christ are subject to everlasting conscious punishment.  This of course implies that The account of origins presented in Genesis … provides a reliable framework for scientific research, because The doctrines of Creator and Creation cannot ultimately be divorced from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

VeggieTigers

Creation Museum (Kentucky) tableau of Eden, showing tigers and humans peacefully coexisting

And the fact that Death (both physical and spiritual) and bloodshed entered into this world subsequent to and as a direct consequence of man’s sin explains how we know that tigers were originally vegetarians (see illustration). I’d always wondered.

But let no one accuse AiG of narrow-mindedness! Board members believe that Scripture teaches a recent origin for man and the whole creation, spanning approximately 4,000 years from creation to Christ, but other employees are free to accept different chronologies.

I give the Statement in full, to avoid the risk of quote-mining. UK readers may find it interesting to compare it with the views of the Christian Schools Trust, as described by the Trust’s founder, Doctor Sylvia Baker, in her Ph.D. Dissertation.

Statement of Faith

In order to preserve the function and integrity of the ministry in its mission to proclaim the absolute truth and authority of Scripture and to provide a biblical role model to our employees, and to the Church, the community, and society at large, it is imperative that all persons employed by the ministry in any capacity, or who serve as volunteers, should abide by and agree to our Statement of Faith, to include the statement on marriage and sexuality, and conduct themselves accordingly.

Section 1: Priorities

  • The scientific aspects of creation are important but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.
  • The doctrines of Creator and Creation cannot ultimately be divorced from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Section 2: Basics

  • The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.
  • The final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself.
  • The account of origins presented in Genesis is a simple but factual presentation of actual events and therefore provides a reliable framework for scientific research into the question of the origin and history of life, mankind, the earth, and the universe.
  • The various original life forms (kinds), including mankind, were made by direct creative acts of God. The living descendants of any of the original kinds (apart from man) may represent more than one species today, reflecting the genetic potential within the original kind. Only limited biological changes (including mutational deterioration) have occurred naturally within each kind since creation.
  • The great Flood of Genesis was an actual historic event, worldwide (global) in its extent and effect.
  • The special creation of Adam (the first man) and Eve (the first woman), and their subsequent fall into sin, is the basis for the necessity of salvation for mankind.
  • Death (both physical and spiritual) and bloodshed entered into this world subsequent to and as a direct consequence of man’s sin.

Section 3: Theology

  • The Godhead is triune: one God, three Persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  • All mankind are sinners, inherently from Adam and individually (by choice), and are therefore subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.
  • Freedom from the penalty and power of sin is available to man only through the sacrificial death and shed blood of Jesus Christ and His complete and bodily resurrection from the dead.
  • The Holy Spirit enables the sinner to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
  • The Holy Spirit lives and works in each believer to produce the fruits of righteousness.
  • Salvation is a gift received by faith alone in Christ alone and expressed in the individual’s repentance, recognition of the death of Christ as full payment for sin, and acceptance of the risen Christ as Savior, Lord, and God.
  • All things necessary for our salvation are expressly set down in Scripture.
  • Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
  • Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead, ascended to heaven, and is currently seated at the right hand of God the Father, and shall return in person to this earth as Judge of the living and the dead.
  • Satan is the personal spiritual adversary of both God and mankind.
  • Those who do not believe in Christ are subject to everlasting conscious punishment, but believers enjoy eternal life with God.
  • The only legitimate marriage sanctioned by God is the joining of one naturally born man and one naturally born woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture. God intends sexual intimacy to only occur between a man and a woman who are married to each other, and has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. Any form of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography, or any attempt to change one’s gender, or disagreement with one’s biological gender, is sinful and offensive to God.
  • It is the duty of Christians to regularly attend a local Bible believing church, as portrayed in the New Testament.
  • All human life is sacred and begins at conception (defined as the moment of fertilization). The unborn child is a living human being, created in the image of God, and must be respected and protected both before and after birth. The abortion of an unborn child or the active taking of human life through euthanasia constitutes a violation of the sanctity of human life, and is a crime against God and man.

Section 4: General

The following are held by members of the Board of Answers in Genesis to be either consistent with Scripture or implied by Scripture:

  • Scripture teaches a recent origin for man and the whole creation, spanning approximately 4,000 years from creation to Christ.
  • The days in Genesis do not correspond to geologic ages, but are six [6] consecutive twenty-four [24] hour days of creation.
  • The Noachian Flood was a significant geological event and much (but not all) fossiliferous sediment originated at that time.
  • The gap theory has no basis in Scripture.
  • The view, commonly used to evade the implications or the authority of biblical teaching, that knowledge and/or truth may be divided into secular and religious, is rejected.
  • By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.

Updated: August 10, 2015

h/t The Sensuous Curmudgeon, reporting on AiG’s recent defence of its statement of faith. This defence discusses, in some detail, the origin of the Grand Canyon and of the beaks of birds, and will be of particular interest to geologists and molecular biologists. For a commentary on the Statement, by my friend the Rev Michael Roberts, and why he regards it as heresy, see here. NB: comments on Michael’s position, which differs in a number of ways from mine, should be addressed to him, not me.

Ken Ham, Noah’s Ark, and authenticity

A MEME ABOUT KEN HAM IN A HAT

hamstraightprofile meme

God of Evolution, which I regard as an ally against the forces of darkness, writes:

I don’t remember the part of the biblical flood story where Noah sues the government for not giving him millions in tax breaks. Maybe that’s because Noah actually was interested in following the God’s directives, you know, unlike some people.

This work by godofevolution.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

And if you think that Ken Ham and all he stands for is irrelevant to Scottish schools, think again.

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

Creationism petition Scotland; press coverage to end 2014; still (just) time to help

This petition is still very much alive. If you as parent, teacher, or student have come across examples of separate creation or a young Earth being presented as scientifically credible (or, worse, as true) in Scottish public schools, please let me know (details in confidence) and if you are willing to go public please write to petitions@scottish.parliament.uk citing petition PE01530, and saying that your submission is for publication. The Public Petitions Committee will be re-examining our petition on January 27, and accepting submissions until shortly before then (we suggest submitting by Monday January 12).

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.

Scottish Parliament: Return to homepagePetition 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

ForbesForbes Magazine 30 Dec: 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 [ntrodicing 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/

[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 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, 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 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

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.

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.)

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, [Glasgow] Evening Times 11 Nov: MSPs warned on schools creationism

http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/news/scotland/msps-warned-on-schools-creationism-1.677358

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

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

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.)

Herald 4 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/topic-of-the-week-intelligent-design.25812362  A selection of letters

Herald 2 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/anger-over-move-to-teach-intelligent-design-in-schools.25756300  Introduces the topic

[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

Answers in Genesis praises Scottish Government’s creationism teaching policy

Why I won’t debate with a creationist. And what to do instead.

 

 

debate on stage

Bill Nye trounces Ken Ham in debate, and helps save the Creation Museum from bankruptcy. A triumph of reason, or a Pyrrhic victory? Opinions differ

Recently, here, I publicly refused an invitation from a creationist to debate our respective standpoints. I gave the usual reasons; it would look better on his vita than on mine, and I saw no advantage in publicising his absurdities. This even though he most graciously offered to allow me to nominate someone else from the British Centre for Science Education, if I did not myself feel up to the intellectual challenge involved.

On reflection, I feel that I was less than open, and that the dilemma posed may have some more general relevance to education about evolution, which is why I am discussing it here. In brief, the kind of debate suggested is not symmetrical. There are more ways of being wrong than being right, and the scientist is constrained by reality, while the creationist is constrained only by plausibility. Creationist arguments revolve round memes that have undergone prolonged Darwinian evolution, and such memes when successful do not disappear merely because they have been logically refuted. We tend to believe what we are told, especially if we are hearing it from a speaker dignified by a public platform. Critical evaluation of complex arguments is always difficult, and in areas that we have not studied can approach the impossible. The spoken word, above all, is fleeting; we have time to form an impression, but not enough for critical analysis, making it the perfect medium for the seemingly learned non sequitur. Speech is also the natural medium for the rhetorical trick of equivocation, an apparently convincing chain of reasoning that depends on sliding from one meaning of a word to another. We cannot rebut creationist claims without publicising them, and rebuttals sound too much like excuses. In any case, rebuttals cannot possibly be more memorable than the claims rebutted, and the very act of debate suggests an intellectual balance that does not in fact exist.

Some of these problems still persist in writing, but less so, and I was tempted to present here a brief rebuttal of the few specimens of creationist nonsense that I have come across recently. Claiming that Intelligent Design isn’t creationism, pretending that macroevolution is still speculative, anomalous dating of coal deposits, irreducible complexity, information requiring an intelligence, the Missing Link (actually found in 1924), polystrate fossils, that kind of thing. And then I realised that this would be a singularly futile exercise. Most of my readers can do this just as well for themselves, while the dissenting minority will merely echo more long-refuted creationist myths, or, in the case of one reader, generate new myths of his own, and engage in tedious verbal trench warfare to support their positions. No opinions dented, and nothing learnt.

How then to proceed? I would suggest starting from the fact that people tend to believe what they want to believe, and want to feel comfortable with their beliefs. So a two-pronged approach. Make creationism less comfortable for the creationists, and make scientific reality more comfortable for all of us.

My contribution towards the first of these goals is to point out, as I have here already, that creationism is blasphemous because it requires a God who lied in the Great Book of Nature. As an atheist, I have perhaps poor credentials to argue this point, although I would say in my own defence that it was my own position when, many years ago, I was myself a believer, that I seem to have struck a chord among some of my believing friends, and that similar sentiments have just now been independently and eloquently expressed, albeit more graciously, from within the community of believers.

As for the second of these goals, one promising technique is to render evolution personal, by connecting it to our individual development in the womb, or our individual ancestry, or to the parallels between biological evolution and aspects of cultural and historical development, not all of them benign. Recently, some outstanding books have appeared using these approaches, and I will be reviewing them here early in the New Year.

All of this has serious implications for me as I contemplate my next major writing project.

Answers in Genesis attacks our petition against creationism, Young Earthism

Academic freedom under fire in Scotland, warns AiG

“Nobel laureates petition Scottish government to prohibit teachers from presenting creation science as alternative to evolutionism”

Yes, it’s true. We dangerous radicals at Scottish Secular Society are petitioning the Scottish Government to protect our schoolchildren (and our teachers) from those who want to present separate creationism and Young Earth doctrines as valid alternatives to the established science.And we do have Nobel Laureate backing. And AiG is attacking us for it, not once but twice. And if you think we are right to do so, please let the Petitions Committee (and if you live in Scotland, your MSPs) know about it (see here for contact details and suggestions).

 

TruthBeTold (2)

This is the kind of thing we want to stop; this book was handed out to Primary School children in East Kilbride last year

There  is still time to help, wherever you are. Separate creationism and the ultimate lunacy of YoungEarthism have gone international; the resistance will be stronger for doing likewise.

A special plea to those of you who live in Scotland. The science deniers are a constituency. We need to show that science lovers are a constituency too. Let your MSPs, both constituency and regional, hear from you. And let me know what they say in return.

Ken Ham: 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.

Links to creationist sites are set to nofollow

Reviewed: Young Earth Creationist books handed out in Scottish primary school

DinoPicAa

From Truth be Told, one of the books handed out to children at Kirktenholme Primary

My friends in Scotland will know about how a local Church of Christ sect, with the help of missionaries from the US,  successfully infiltrated a Scottish state non-denominational primary school, were only properly scrutinised (after 8 years of activity) when the school chaplain (a sect member) gave the children two fundamentalist Young earth creationist books to take home, and how the sect has now been barred from that school and the two head teachers who made the mistake of trusting them redeployed.

My American friends will be surprised that a school should have a chaplain, let alone at the rest of these extraordinary goings on, about which I shall have much more to say later. I have read the books given out, and prepared a full report on them, which I attach here.

I had previously, as a backgrounder, sent it to some of the parents, to the school itself, and to the local authority that controls the school, before the local authority education officer met parents to discuss the situation. The immediate problem has been dealt with, but I would like to know what steps the school and the Council plan to take to undo the educational damage inflicted by this.

The books are worse than I could have imagined. A mixture of Morris’s The Genesis Flood, Wells’s Icons of Evolution, and the most bizarre imaginings of Ken Ham‘s Creation Museum, all packaged to look like authoritative school books; the more advanced one even had chapter end review quizzes. I would like to know what steps the school, and the local authority that controls it, plan to take to undo the educational damage inflicted by this.

Anyway, It has occurred to me that I must be one of the few people in the world to have actually submitted himself to the tedium of reading these books from cove to cover, so I thought I’d append my report for those interested: http://www.apologeticspress.org/store/Product.aspx?pid=54  Truth be Told –  and http://www.apologeticspress.org/store/Product.aspx?pid=448 How do we Know God is Real? For these books to be handed out by a school was a betrayal of trust. Their content is contrary to the whole of present-day science, and to the principles and requirements of guidance from the Scottish Department of Education, and the Curriculum for Excellence. Their arguments are a re-hash of a long-refuted “creation science”, a 20th century heresy that has its roots in Henry Morris’s Genesis Flood, and in Seventh Day Adventism, rather than in mainstream Christianity. They are produced by Apologetics Press, the publishing arm of a group of exclusive US sects calling themselves “Churches of Christ”, who “shun” ex-members (http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/mum-tells-how-cult-organisation-2261326) and reject the whole of modern science in favour of their own kind of biblical literalism.

The books are professionally produced, and Truth be Told in particular is formatted in the same way as a real textbook, complete with chapter headings and subheadings, end-of-chapter reviews, quizzes and discussion topics. A diligent pupil receiving these books, as the children at Kirktonholme did, with the blessings of the school, will conclude that the whole of modern cosmology, geology, and biology is fundamentally mistaken, and that those who promulgate it, including their own science teachers, all university biology departments, and all the world’s leading scientific societies, are lying.One particularly nasty feature is that established science is repeatedly misrepresented so as to make it look absurd, and the evidence for it is repeatedly suppressed or, worse, incorrectly described so as to make it seem unconvincing. This is most obviously true in the chapters regarding the age of the earth, the fossil record, and evolution.

The authors have no scientific qualifications. Kyle Butt graduated from a private Churches of Christ university, and his degrees are in Bible and Communications. Eric Lyons’s degrees, from the same university, are in Bible, History, and Ministry.

How do we Know  misdescribes the Big Bang as disorderly (H 14) [1], asserts (H 18 – 39) that because organisms are complex, each species must have been individually designed, and claims (H 40 – 41) that if evolution is true, dogs could give birth to animals that are half-dog and half-cat.

There are also other claims, not strictly scientific, that are repugnant in a pluralist society, such as, that “Only a belief in God can help people understand what actions are truly right and truly wrong.” (H 51); that those who deny the existence of God are “like those people who deny that Americans have ever landed on the moon.” (H 54), that “when a person properly looks at all the evidence with an open mind and honest art, he cannot be an atheist.” (H 55; emphasis in original).

Truth be Told is the worst kind of creationist anti-science, made to look like a real textbook, with chapter end quizzes (sample: Briefly explain why the trilobite is evidence of Creation), claims of fossilised trilobites inside human footprints, that evolutionists are liars who try unsuccessfully to wriggle out of the Second Law, that radiometric dating depends on flawed assumptions, and other long-exploded lies. It says that evolutionists (that would include their own science teachers at school and university) are dishonestly refusing to admit the truth, that the earth is 6,000 years old, that Noah’s flood explains the Grand Canyon, and that people used dinosaurs as beasts of burden. All this presented as real science in a textbook-like format.

Within the first five pages of Truth be Told, I found nine major errors of scientific fact or logic. Even a brief summary of major errors runs to four pages, which I include here for those interested in the detailed arguments. Some of the highlights are:

Ch 1, Origin of the universe, claims that because Big Bangs are not taking place today, the idea is not amenable to scientific testing. False; the Big Bang is accepted because it quantitatively explains Hubble’s Law, the relative abundance of the light elements and their isotopes, the Cosmic Microwave Background and its fluctuations.

Ch 2, Origin of life, describes the unsolved problem of the origin of life as a weakness in the concept of biological evolution. Not so, any more than the unsolved problem of the origin of language is a weakness in the concept of language evolution.

Ch 5, Geology in the fossil record; geological strata are said to be the result of Noah’s flood, and the rapidity of change in special situations, specifically Mount St Helens, is said to argue against the gradualness of average change in general.

Ch 6, The age of the Earth; claims that radiometric decay rates could have been different in the past, although it has been known since 1928 that they could not have, since if they had been all the laws of physics and chemistry, responsible for the formation of rocks, would also have been different.

Ch 7, Dinosaurs and man, says that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, and that there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark. It also claims that assorted rock art represents dinosaurs, speculates that humans could have used dinosaurs as beasts of burden, and even has pictures of dinosaurs pulling carts.

Ch 8, Arguing against evolution, misrepresents the facts regarding embryo development, and, of course, the peppered moth story.

Ch 9, The origin of humans, concentrates on errors from many decades ago, and dismisses intermediate forms such as Homo habilis because they are not fully human (of course they are not. That’s the whole point)

Ch 10, Creation Scientists, is shameless. It lists Louis Pasteur (died 1895) and Sir Isaac Newton (died 1727), and confuses belief in God with belief in the kind of creationism described here. In addition, the book repeatedly accuses evolutionists (remember that this includes the science teachers they will be meeting later, as well as virtually all research scientists) of deliberate disregard and distortion of the evidence, and refusal to admit the truth.

In more tedious detail [you don’t really need to read this unless you want to]:

Ch 1: that the Big Bank was an explosion, sending lumps of matter shooting through space (false; it was a highly orderly event, and lumps of matter only condensed out much later), that acceptance of the Big Bang is of relevance to the acceptance of biological evolution (they are completely different topics), that because Big Bangs are not taking place today, the idea is not amenable to scientific testing(false; the Big Bang is accepted because it quantitatively explains Hubble’s Law, the relative abundance of the light elements and their isotopes, the Cosmic Microwave Background and its fluctuations), and that that a scientific law is “a principle in nature that is true in every observable case”, that (referring presumably the situation existing shortly after the Big Bang), “a tiny ball of matter is not an adequate cause” for our enormous universe (false; this claim neglects the effects of almost 14 billion years of expansion). The chapter also miss describes the use of the terms “law” and “theory” in science, and invokes an imaginary Law of Cause and Effect, which in reality is routinely violated by events at the quantum level, including according to some current thinking the Big Bang itself.

Ch 1 also incorrectly states that the Big Bang theory violates the First and Second Laws of thermodynamics. False; the First Law is not violated because the positive energy of the contents of the universe is exactly balanced by its negative gravitational energy, and the Big Bang was a highly orderly event, not disorderly as stated here. All of this is clearly laid out in many popular books on the subject. Most seriously, T 11 incorrectly invokes the Second Law as saying that the spontaneous pattern formation required by evolution could not occur. In reality, the spontaneous formation of new patterns in far from equilibrium systems, of which he Earth-Sun-Space system is an example, has been known for many decades, and was the subject of Ilya Prigogine’s 1977 Nobel Prize.

T13 on describes the suitability of the Earth to life as clear evidence of providence. False; examining two of the examples given, the ozone layer is the inevitable result of the Sun’s UV light, and the Earth’s magnetic field is the inevitable result of its molten core, which in turn is the inevitable result of its composition and mode of formation. Subsequent pages point out ways in which the World is just right for us; but of course it is, since it is the World that we have evolved in.

Ch 2 describes the unsolved problem of the origin of life as a weakness in the concept of biological evolution. Not so, any more than the unsolved problem of the origin of language is a weakness in the concept of language evolution. This chapter also completely misdescribes conditions on the early Earth, current thinking on the origins of life, and the very restricted role now claimed for the Urey-Miller experiment. The claim that the work of Redi and Pasteur, refuting 18th-century theories of spontaneous generation, has any relevance to what could have happened over tens of millions of years on the early Earth is ridiculous.

Ch 3 misdescribes evolution, chooses Darwin’s finches as an example but ignores extensive recent studies, and claims that mutations cannot generate new information on the grounds that they merely rearrange existing material (this is like saying that an author does not generate new information, because he is merely rearranging existing words). It ignores well established cases of adaptation, such as (within humans) lactose tolerance in pastoral peoples, and resistance to local diseases.

Ch 4 asserts that “Design demands a designer” (this is simply asserting what it claims to prove), and points to good design within the human body while completely neglecting the cases of bad design (such as hernias, choking, the blind spot in the eye, along with many others) that can only be understood as evolutionary relics.  Like so much of the creationist literature, the book at this point misquotes Darwin on the subject of the eye.

Ch 5, on the geological record, is a travesty. Geological strata are said to be the result of Noah’s flood. The fact that fossil tree trunks rise up through several layers of later sediment is said to refute the claim that these sediments accumulated over millions of years. The complexity of the trilobite eye is said to refute the plain fact that from the bottom up (i.e., according to three centuries of geology, but not according to this book, from older sediments onwards) the totality of life has become more complex and diverse. We have the usual (for the creationist literature) misdescription of uniformitarianism, and the claim that the rapidity of change in special situations, specifically Mount St Helens, argues against the gradualness of change on average.

Ch 6, the age of the earth, repeats the usual nonsense about radiometric dating depending on doubtful assumptions. In reality, the mineralogical assumptions made in the early work have been bypassed since the 1940s by the use of isochron dating techniques, while the “assumption” that decay rates have remained constant has been known, since George Gamow’s work in 1928, to be a necessary consequence of the fact that more fundamental quantities, such as the speed of light and the charge on the electron, have remained constant. If this were not so, we would not have had rocks laid down according to the laws of chemistry and physics in the first place.

At this point, the specific Young Earth agenda comes into its own. If tree ring dating places a piece of wood at 10,000 years old, this book claims that this is simply because it was created with 4000 years worth of tree rings inside it. Here we also meet the first flat-out piece of fiction. The book says that there are human footprints in coal layers dated at 250 million years old.

Next come the usual and long refuted creationist arguments for a young Earth. The Earth’s magnetic field is decaying. Indeed it is (and we know that it has decayed and even changed direction many times in the past). The book then says that therefore, the Earth a few thousand years ago would have been so hot it would have cracked. This is nonsense on so many levels that I hardly know where to start. It is claimed that if the universe were billions, or even millions, of years old, then all the hydrogen would long since have been changed into helium. Again this is nonsense. We know how fast hydrogen is being converted into helium in the Sun, from how bright it is, and this fits well with the established age for the solar system of a little over 4.5 billion years. There is a ludicrous argument from population statistics, which effectively assumes a rate of growth over evolutionary time comparable with that only made possible since the development of agriculture.

At this point, the lies become embarrassing. T 109 says that “archaeologists have documented time and again that the period between the time of Abraham and the time of Jesus was about 2000 years. Who do not believe in God… admit that this is true.” In reality, there is no archaeological evidence for Abraham.

Ch 7, Dinosaurs and man, says that it “simply is not true” that dinosaurs lived millions of years before humans, and that “there is much evidence which shows that humans, dinosaurs, and other extinct animals lived together only a few thousand years ago”. Abstract and fanciful monsters found in ancient art are described as evidence for dinosaurs. Herodotus’ description of remains of flying snakes resembling bats is taken as evidence for him having seen pterosaurs, even though pterosaurs are not in the least bit bat-like.  T 121 misdescribes collagen residues preserved in one tyrannosaur fossil by tight binding to bone as “soft issue”.

T 120 and T 121 accuse science textbooks of lying. T 120: “The reason you do not see it [the evidence that humans lived alongside dinosaurs] in your school science books is because it stands opposed to evolution…. When we look at the evidence, we can see the truth.” T 121: “Evolutionary scientists should admit… that dinosaur bones are not millions of years old…. An honest person who found soft issue in a dinosaur fossil would admit that the fossil could not be millions of years old.”

The rest of this chapter suggests that, by analogy with elephants and orcas, humans might have tamed dinosaurs, and shows (T 125, 132) humans interacting with dinosaurs and using them as beasts of burden. We are told that there were dinosaurs on the Ark, and there is discussion of how they could have been fitted in. Dinosaur graveyards are attributed to dinosaurs being drowned in Noah’s Flood.

Ch 8, Evolution is not a proven fact, starts off as is customary in the creationist literature with an attack on Haeckel’s drawings, ignoring everything that has been learnt about development since. It misdraws the human embryo as having the shape of a fully formed human, confuses gill slits with gill arches, and suppresses such well-known facts as the presence of fur and tails on human embryos at around six months. Next (T 138 – 139) we have the peppered moth story, complete with accusations that the camouflage story was false, and that “even though many of the writers and science have book publishers knew was false, they used it anyway” [emphasis in original].

By chance, I wrote at length about this a few weeks ago (http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2013/08/creationism-as-conspiracy-theory-the-case-of-the-peppered-moth.html). There was no fraud. There were inadequacies in the original experiments. These were repeated, and the results confirmed and placed on a sound footing. That is how science works.

The story of horse evolution is misrepresented on the basis of a quote mined from 1953, while that of whale evolution incorrectly asserts that the evolutionary account is based on only a few bones, and suppresses the fact that we have a complete sequence of over 18 separate stages connecting whales with their terrestrial ancestors. We have confusion between analogy and homology, and misdescription of the evidence from vestigial organs. The chapter ends with the claim that the ability of vestigial organs to perform a new function is evidence against evolution. On the contrary, it is evidence for what is known as exaptation, a powerful evolutionary mechanism.

Ch 9, Did humans evolve? Suppresses the evidence for some 20 species more or less intermediate between us and our common ancestor with chimpanzees, makes great play with frauds and errors long since disposed of, misdescribes Homo habilis as merely an ape and therefore irrelevant in human evolution (the opposite is the case; its position on the borderline between Australopithecus and Homo is evidence that the continuity that creationists deny).

Ch 10, Creation Scientists, is shameless. It lists Louis Pasteur (died 1895) and Sir Isaac Newton (died 1727), and confuses belief in God with belief in the kind of creationism described here.

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[1] References with page numbers; H, How do we Know, T, Truth be Told
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