The story so far: Spencer Fildes and I defended our petition to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on November 24. The Committee (transcript here; see “New Petitions) listened most attentively, questioned us closely but not unsympathetically, and agreed to write to a number of organisations for their views. You will find full details, including petition text and links to the submissions received, at the Petition website. Now read on: Read the rest of this entry
Presentation to Parliament: Removing Church nominees from Council Education Committees (Petition PE01623)
Update: the transcript of the meeting is now available at http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10656 then “New petitions” then “Local Authority Education Committees”
The petition progresses. Yesterday, Spencer Fildes and I (actually, mainly Spencer) gave evidence to Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee. The petition itself is now closed for signature, but submissions from organisations, or from individuals, especially I would suggest parents and teachers, remain welcome at petitions@parliament.Scot. (Suggestions: specify PE01623, and keep it short.) Read the rest of this entry
Reminder: there is still time to show support for our petition to abolish Church appointees on Local Authority Education Committees; just click here and fill in your details
Summary: Religious values, unless they are also shared human values, will be important to those who want to follow that particular religion, but have no special significance for the rest of us.
The Churches refer to “Christian values”, in order to justify their uninvited presence on Council Education Committees. Like other reasons offered (see earlier post), this one repays closer examination.
The Church of Scotland enjoins its appointees to assert their presence “by exercising your statutory right and endeavouring to influence council education policies in areas of interest to the national church, including the development of the curriculum, Christian values, religious and moral education and religious observance in schools”. I have already discussed the implications for the curriculum and for religious and moral education and religious observance. Here I would like to concentrate on the concept of Christian values, and, indeed, religious values in general. Read the rest of this entry
On May 12, the Education and Culture Committing of the Scottish Parliament formally closed consideration of the Scottish Secular Society’s petition, as having run its course. This petition sought guidance to exclude creationism from Scotland’s publicly funded schools. The Committee had asked the Scottish Government to clarify its position, and in his reply the Minister responsible had finally brought himself to say that creationism should not be taught in science classes. For more on the year-long process that led to this point, see here and here.
The Herald story itself remains top of the “most read” list at time of writing, after 5 days, and has attracted 57,000 on-site Likes.
To my surprise, the story has gathered international attention. A story in The Independent (does that count as international? Are England and Scotland part of the same nation? Do not attempt to answer this question here. The same comment applies to a summary by the London-based National Secular Society.) A report from our good friends at the California-based National Center for Science Education; also from Patheos. Favourable comment from Russia Today. An interview on The Sceptic’s Guide to the Universe, the leading US podcast of its kind (episode #516, about half way through; 100,000 downloads).
And a story on I Freaking Love Science , whose FaceBook posting had earned 292,706 Likes, 38,006 Shares, and 9,754 comments in its first 24 hours. A followup hostile letter in The Herald, May 31, notable for the comments it drew which were the very opposite of what the writer was hoping for; a report on that letter by The Sensuous Curmudgeon, a widely read and superficially facetious but in fact well-informed critic of Creationists. A further commentary in the Herald on June 2 by Andrew Denholm, Education Correspondent, who celebrates a victory for common sense, while denying that anything has happened. (I will add details here if yet more stories appear about the Petition.)
So what has happened, and why does it matter? What has happened is that the Scottish Government has moved from merely saying that creationism is not part of the syllabus, to saying that it should not be taught in science classes. A shift from “need not” to “must not”. In terms of mechanical application of the rules, no real change. In terms of framing and context, pivotal. If Creationism is not scientific in the science class, how can it be scientific elsewhere?
In the course of its submission to the Scottish Parliament regarding our petition, the Society for Biology commented:
We recognise that questions regarding creationism and intelligent design may arise in the classroom, for example as a result of individual faith and beliefs or media coverage…. [W]e 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.
Quite so. But why only in science lessons? Creationism is, and should be, regularly discussed in Scottish schools, not in the context of science, but in that of Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies (RMPS).
As most readers will know, “Creation Scientists” and Intelligent Design proponents want to claim scientific respectability for the doctrine of separate special creation. The Government’s new position will make it far harder for them to do so. Nonetheless, it would run counter to the entire spirit of RMPS for instructors to tell students what to think. So teachers, who may themselves have had little formal training in biology, have to convey quite detailed evidence in such a way that students can come to their own well-informed conclusions. My colleagues and I are putting together materials that all those involved in these classes might find helpful, and would appreciate suggestions.
1] Filter-protected version of the real name
Guidance provided by Education Scotland… does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons ….
I am aware of concerns you have previously expressed about Creationism being taught in 3 schools in Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and Midlothian… . Education Scotland will, however, continue to monitor this through the independent inspection process, and other on-going engagement with practitioners and schools, including with science teachers, and address any issues that arise [emphasis added].
Alasdair Allan, Minister for Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages, to Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee, April 22 2015, in response to Scottish Secular Society petition (full text of letter attached at end of this post).
A tipping point.
This in response to the events set in chain by the Scottish Secular Society’s 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.
As recently as December 2014, the Scottish Government’s official position stopped short of giving any guidance at all about the teaching of Creationism in science classes, on the grounds that such things should be left to teachers, and to bodies such as Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, rather than being dealt with by the Government as such. Now we have, at last, a clear statement from the responsible minister that Creationism should not be taught as science. This U-turn is concealed by the use of the word “therefore”. The Minister has now given the guidance that we sought. How does he reconcile this with the principle of governmental non-intervention in the curriculum? By implying that he is not stating a new position, but one that had been implicit in Education Scotland’s guidance all along.
I think supporters of science over superstition should be willing to accept this polite fiction. The Scottish parliamentary petition process, far superior to that at Westminster, has worked exactly as it should. A handful of individuals, with no external resources, have been able to force discussion of a politically uncomfortable topic at ministerial level. The Minister, doggedly defending the status quo, has tacitly recognise that all was not well, and, while explicitly refraining from issuing new guidance, has issued new guidance. The necessary commitment to teachers’ independence (see full text of letter below) has been displayed, in the very act of instructing them how to use it. All parties can claim victory, and I for one am left with an enhanced respect to that most maligned of professions, the politician.
In addition, the Government’s December 2014 position was that no cause for concern had been shown. Now, however, the Minister shows awareness of concerns involving’s three separate Education Authorities (there are more). In this new context, the reference to monitoring through inspection moves from poorly concealed denialism to active commitment.
Our Petition, having made its way through the Public Petitions Committee and been twice considered by the Education and Culture Committee, has now been formally closed. In the words of the Convener of the latter committee as stated in the official record,
One of the concerns that I raised was not about the banning of discussions of such philosophies and ideas in schools but about the possible intrusion of creationism into science classes. In the minister’s letter—which I will quote to ensure that it is in the Official Report—he has helpfully pointed out:
“Guidance provided by Education Scotland, set out in the ‘Principles and Practice’ papers and the ‘Experiences and Outcomes’ documentation for each of the 8 curriculum areas does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons.”
The Government could not have made that any clearer, and I am therefore in accord with other members that, in light of the Government’s letter, we should close the petition.
So what have we achieved? Far more than I would have imagined possible.
- Over 600 signatures, including three Nobel prize winners.
- Strong letters of support from many bodies, including the Society for Biology, and the British Centre for Science Education, and from a wide range of highly qualified individuals, including professors, schoolteachers, and clergymen.
- Widespread public discussion of what had been until then almost a non-issue, with a total of more than 60 reports in every major newspaper in Scotland and many far beyond.
- An amazing piece of self-exposure from Glasgow’s Centre for Intelligent Design, rapidly identified by the British Centre for Science Education as Creationist in its claims that macroevolution is contentious, and that the accepted science of evolution does not account for the origin of novelty
- Greatly heighten public awareness, and an end to the pretence that such outrageous incidents as that at Kirktonholme were rarer and isolated events. (Regular readers will know that at Kirktonholme, books handed out in school assembly showed dinosaurs being used as farm animals, and said that the reason for belief in evolution was the wish to justify personal wickedness.)
- A motion in the Scottish Parliament, signed by 22 Members (out of a total of around 100 eligible to sign), saying
That the Parliament congratulates South Lanarkshire Council on taking decisive action to prevent the teaching of creationism in schools by introducing new guidance; condemns any promotion of creationism in publicly funded schools, including the reported distribution of creationist books at Kirktonholme Primary School; believes that creationism should not be presented as a scientific theory and viable alternative to the established theory of evolution, and supports the Society of Biology and the Scottish Secular Society position in opposing the teaching of creationism in the classroom.
(Happily, the time when South Lanarkshire was struggling with its response, concerning which more here, to the Kirktonholme scandal corresponded to the time when our petition was attracting maximum publicity.)
- And finally, this critical shift from merely saying that Creationism is not in the syllabus, to saying that it should not be taught as part of science lessons.
There remains much cause for concern about how Creationism is presented in Religions, Moral, and Philosophical Studies (RMPS) classes in Scotland. It is the laudable goal of RMPS to encourage pupils to make up their own minds between competing positions, but what if one of the positions, with many adherents in some parts of Scotland, is flat out wrong? It is difficult to maintain that an error-laden account of who we are and where we came from can be acceptable in RMPS, when it has been specifically excluded from the science classroom. The Creationist position cannot be discussed without presenting it, but how should we respond to a current textbook that states as a strength of Intelligent Design “Strong scientific arguments for the arguments properly researched according to scientific method,” none of which is true (in the context of the petition, see here and here; for more criticism see here)? Alasdair Allan has said in Parliament that Creationism should be discussed but not promoted, but where is the boundary between discussion and promotion? More on this in due course.
Text of Ministerial letter:
Mr Stewart Maxwell MSP
Education and Culture Committee
The Scottish Parliament
22 April 2015
Thank you for your letter of 18 March 2015 about the Education and Culture Committee’s consideration of Petition PE1530 from the Scottish Secular Society. I will reply to the points you have raised in turn:
Scottish Government position on Petition PE1530
Thank you for the opportunity to summarise the Scottish Government’s position on Petition PE1530, as was set out in the Learning Directorate’s letter of 15 December 2014 to the Public Petitions Committee.
While teachers will undoubtedly hold a wide range of views and opinions on religious, ethical and other matters, there are a number of safeguards already in place that are designed to ensure young people receive a balanced education. These include; a robust and independent school inspection regime, the positive influence on school life of Parent Councils, education authority and school management team oversight of what is being taught and presented within the school as a whole, a robust complaints process that is set out in statute, and an independent body established to set the professional standards expected of all teachers — the General Teaching Council of Scotland.
Guidance provided by Education Scotland, set out in the “Principles and Practice” papers and the “Experiences and Outcomes” documentation for each of the 8 curriculum areas does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons.
As you know the non-statutory curriculum is a long-standing feature of Scottish education. The difficulty of putting in place a ban for a specific issue, like Creationism in science, is that there will inevitably be calls for bans on other issues and the curriculum would risk becoming mired in legal arrangements. It is preferable to leave the curriculum to teachers and enable them to exercise their professional judgement on what is taught, rather than legislate to ban issues like Creationism in specific areas.
Prevalence of Creationism Teaching
Education Scotland’s science and Religious and Moral Education (RME) teams, along with HMI Subject Specialists, have engaged extensively with schools over the last two years. This includes visits to over 40 establishments as evidence gathering for the Sciences 3-18 Curriculum Impact Report; five sciences “conversation days” involving more than 250 stakeholders and Education Scotland engagement with many hundreds of teachers through events designed to support primary science and the new SQA sciences National Qualifications.
I am aware of concerns you have previously expressed about Creationism being taught in 3 schools in Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and Midlothian. I can confirm that since these incidents were highlighted no concerns have been expressed to Education Scotland staff, either in the RME or Science teams, about the teaching of Creationism or similar doctrines in Scottish schools and no school or teacher has sought guidance on this matter from Education Scotland. Education Scotland will, however, continue to monitor this through the independent inspection process, and other on-going engagement with practitioners and schools, including with science teachers, and address any issues that arise.
Approaches to this issue in other parts of the United Kingdom
You will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to offer a view on how this issue is approached in other parts of the United Kingdom as this is a matter for the other UK administrations. My officials have sought information from their counterparts in the other UK administrations and there are aspects of their approaches that are similar to our own.
I remain confident that checks and balances are in place to ensure that the teaching of Creationism or similar doctrines does not happen in school science classrooms in Scotland.
I hope the Committee finds this information of use.
Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages
This morning, the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament held its third and final hearing on the Scottish Secular Society’s Petition PE01530. The meeting is archived here, and a transcript will be available in about a week here.
Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.
I quote this again, since the Petition’s opponents, with scant regard for the Commandment against bearing false witness, repeatedly claim that we want to shut down all discussion of religion, or of the Biblical account of creation, or whatever. Indeed, such claims were actually quoted at the Committee meeting, by members concerned to show suitable sensitivity towards the tender feelings of their own creationist constituents.
However, the issue was never really in doubt, given the support that our petition has received among Members of the Scottish Parliament; see here.
The Convener was admirably blunt in describing creationism as “bilge”, and while no one dissented from this, there was still some discussion as to whether it presented a real problem. Eventually, however, and without a division, the Petitions Committee agreed to our request to forward the Petition to the Education and Culture Committee for further consideration. We could not have hoped for a better outome.
I would like to thank all those who have contributed to the discussion stirred up by our Petition, individually or as members of organisations. By moving the issue into the limelight, instead of leaving it in the decent obscurity that many would prefer, you have stimulated an unprecedented level of debate, not only on this specific subject, but on the entire question of the appropriate role of religion in Scotland’s publicly funded schools.This is far more than I would have imagined possible at the outset, or even as recently as a week ago.
This is an issue that, in Scotland, cuts across party lines, and indeed the bulk of our recorded parliamentary support comes from members of the governing Scottish National Party, although the Government itself is still pretending that there is no creationism problem here.
For the record, I attach the Scottish Secular Society’s press release of this morning, and its list of links and sources. my own blog posts on the subject are all on this site, collected here. My posts on the interwoven topic of the Kirktonholme Creationist textbook scandal, and subsequent developments including the admirable new South Lanarkshire guidelines, are here. I will keep you informed of new developments, and, once more, I thank you.
SCOTTISH SECULAR SOCIETY SATISFIED ‘CREATIONISM’ PETITION TO GO BEFORE EDUCATION AND CULTURE COMMITTEE
· SSS seek guidance on how creationism is presented in schools
· PPC refer matter to E&CC
The Parliament Petitions Committee (PPC) has today advised the Education and Culture committee to look at the Scottish Secular Society’s petition on the teaching of creationism in schools. The SSS are very satisfied with this outcome, that Education and Culture committee are the people best placed to consider the matter and understand the importance of good science education to Scotland.
Spencer Fildes, Chair of the SSS said: “We are delighted that the Public Petitions Committee (P.P.C.) have agreed to refer our petition to the E&CC. Interestingly, the PPC specifically acknowledge the more stringent guidelines now in place across England and Wales regarding the teaching of creationism, they also noted although the E.I.S. and other professional bodies state there are safeguards in place for teaching staff, there were concerns within the PPC around the lack of safeguards regarding external third parties such as Chaplains and volunteers.
Unfortunately the obvious lack of safeguards allowed the teaching of creationism at Kirktonholme to flourish and go unnoticed for over 8 years. Encouragingly, South Lanarkshire have subsequently undertaken a complete overhaul of the delivery and presentation of religion in their schools, making it fairer for those of belief and those of none, with all proper safeguards and checks in place. An excellent example of a secular democracy at work.
They have actually implemented all the recommendations the Scottish Secular Society proposed in our last petition.”
Former Chair of the SSS, Caroline Lynch, said: “We are very pleased that the integrity of Scottish science education is taken seriously by the PCC, and that the appropriate committee will now be looking at this issue. It is important that they understand we seek no new law or ban on Creationism, but guidance that ensures that discussions of the creation myths of any religions featured in schools are conveyed in the appropriate place, the RME classroom. Guidelines mirroring those already in place in England need not stifle discussion and debate, but simply ensure that ideas without evidence are not given the stature of accepted science.”
Professor Paul Braterman, SSS board member and scientific advisor said: “I am very pleased that the committee showed awareness of dissatisfaction with the lack of guidelines within the teaching profession, although I regret that the Society of Biology was not mentioned, but I am pleased with this outcome and feel sure that the education and Culture Committee will take all this into account.”
Notes to Editors: –
Sir John Sulston, Sir Harold Kroto and Sir Richard Roberts.
Press release on Scottish Secular Society petition: –
Anger over move to teach intelligent design in school (The Herald):-
Faith has no place in the classroom (The Herald):-
Creationists take fire for wanting ‘objective’ education in Scottish schools (USA):-
Michael Zimmerman – “Creationism at Its Most Extreme: Will the Scottish Parliament Respond?”:-
Dr Alasdair Allan MSP Minister for Learning says he has complete confidence in teachers: –
Alastair Noble’s comments quoted in press release: –http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/would-you-adam-and-eve-it-top-scientists-tell-scottish-pupils-the-bible-is-true-1.1060545
Open letter from SSS to Mike Russell MSP Secretary for Education on 1 October 2013 asking for ban on teaching of creationism: –
Parliamentary TV footage of SSS petition and former Chair Caroline Lynch exposing Kirktonhome School scandal for first time at 11:00: –
Updated November 29
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 email@example.com citing petition PE01530
Petition site and comments: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/creationismguidance
BBC recording of hearing; Spencer Fildes and Paul Braterman give evidence to Public Petitions Committee
7 Nov Scotsman; Bid to ban creationism is militant atheism: 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…
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).
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.
You may well know of the petition seeking to keep evolution denial from being taught as valid viewpoint in Scottish schools. You may not know of the full horror of the Centre for Intelligent Design’s submission to the Petitions Committee, which raises the stakes by claiming that macroevolution (i.e. common descent) is “unobserved and speculative”, and that students should therefore be made aware of the challenge that Intelligent Design poses to what it calls “Neo-Darwinism”.
C4ID, a close affiliate of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, and clearly committed to its notorious Wedge Strategy, is asking for a licence to present Intelligent Design to schoolchildren as legitimate science. I will be accompanying Spencer Fildes to the Petitions Committee hearing on November 11, charged with the task of defending science from this attack, and convincing the Committee that Intelligent Design is non-science, in what has suddenly turned into Scotland’s version of Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.
We need your help.
If you live outside Scotland, please email the Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org stating your views, and why the issue matters to you. If in Scotland, then in addition to him, please write to your constituency and regional MSPs. For how to contact them (very easy), and my suggestions about how to go about this, see the Letter Writing Suggestions below.
These letters make a difference. Those who deny evolution are constituency. We need to show our lawmakers that we are constituency too. And every letter counts; I heard a senior politician explain that 20 letters to a Member are a lot.
NOW is the time to act, so that these emails are in the MSP’s in-trays in the few days remaining before they consider our petition on Tuesday.
It would be useful for me to have a copy (send to email@example.com), but not essential. It would be very helpful to have copies of any reply you get.
Thanks. We need all the help we can get.
LETTER WRITING SUGGESTIONS
ALL SUPPORTERS: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Essential: specify that you are writing in support of Petition PE01530. The full text of the petition is at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/petitionPDF/PE01530.pdf
SUPPORTERS INSIDE SCOTLAND: in addition, go to https://www.writetothem.com/
This will give you the names of your constituency and regional MSPs. Click on a name and a letter-writing form will open. (Hint: use cut-and-paste, Control-V and control-C, to recopy the same message to each MSP). Do not write to your Westminster MP; education is devolved.
ALL SUPPORTERS: Compose your message (Hint: use cut-and-paste, Control-V and control-C, to re-copy the same message to each MSP)
Notice that the expressions “evolution denial” and “separate creationism” are probably better than the more respectable-sounding “creationism”.
Keep it short. The most important part from the politician’s point of view is the simple fact that you have bothered to write.
Some points you may want to include:
Mention if you are a teacher, parent, school pupil, scientist, or any other relevant fact. Attach any degree etc letters to your name.
Very useful: any examples you personally know of, of evolution denial or young Earth doctrines presented as possibly true in publicly funded schools
Do NOT attack religion. This is not about religion. It is about not lying to children.
The importance of science to Scotland’s future.
The fact that evolution, common ancestry, and an ancient Earth are fundamental well-established principles of the life sciences and Earth sciences.
Known examples of anti-scientific activity, such as the handing out of anti-science books in school assembly at Kirktonholme; the Challenger bus, run by an organisation that supports the extreme Young Earth separate creationist Answers in Genesis; schools staging “debates” giving evolution denial equal consideration with genuine science; and well-funded evolution denial groups such as Creation Ministries International, Truth in Science, and Centre for Intelligent Design active or seeking to become active in our schools (more details here).
Such activities directly undermine the teaching of science and often include directly accusing mainstream scientists of dishonesty.
The petition has already gathered international attention, including support from the (US) National Center for Science Education (see here)
Thanks again for your help.
Links to science-denying sites are nofollow