Should we continue to leave in place the pre-devolution requirement for all Local Authority Education Committees to include three individuals selected by the Churches, sitting and voting alongside the Councillor members selected by the voters?
[Yes, I’m afraid that means what it says. Three of the members of your Council Education Committee were put there by the Churches, not the voters. This despite the fact that most Scots describe themselves as having no religion]
His reply [emphasis added]:
I am not particularly exercised by this. I think it is on the whole valuable to have the Churches involved but I have not sat on an Education Committee and don’t really know how it works out in practice.
It is linked to the broader question of the nature of religious observance and religious education in schools. As you may know, a new, more inclusive, Code of Practice on Religious observance was developed about 4 or 5 years back* which has, I think, proved satisfactory. I can’t say any of this is an issue on which I have had any representations from constituents over the years.
I should add that school communities are increasingly diverse in both religious and cultural background and this has to be reflected in the arrangements made on these things.
I am appalled. Here we have a former Deputy Minister of the Education, and current South Lanarkshire Councillor, saying that “I am not particularly exercised” about this, and “… don’t really know how it works out in practice.” So he tells us that he doesn’t know and doesn’t care about this gross affront to democracy, despite its effect on the governance of the schools for which he formerly had Ministerial responsibility. This effect is real; the Church nominated members sit alongside the elected councillors, and hold the balance of power on 19 out of Scotland’s 32 Education Committees. He next attempts to distract attention from this highly specific issue by smothering it in the broader general context of religious observance in Scottish schools. Finally, he states that in his view the situation in recent years “has … proved satisfactory.”
This despite two major 2013 scandals in the schools of the very region for which he had then just taken his seat as Councillor. First we had the exposure of Nagy Iskander, then a member of the Chaplaincy Committee at Calderwood Academy, as an internationally recognised six-day creationist, Then, a few months later, we had the scandal at Kirktonholme, where an Alabama-based US fundamentalist sect distributed in School Assembly their own textbooks, showing humans using dinosaurs as farm animals; it was subsequently discovered that they had been influencing the school curriculum for eight years. That sect is no longer active in South Lanarkshire schools, but Dr Iskander continues to sit on South Lanarkshire’s Education Committee, having been appointed by his own Church, the biblical infallibilist Westwoodhill Evangelical.
The Scottish Secular Society will be seeking action on the issue of Church seats on Education Committees during the life of the new Parliament. We have collected data on how the Church nominees are appointed, and find arbitrary and inefficient recruitment mechanisms, gross overrepresentation of Noah’s Ark hellfire creationist churches, and bizarre cases such as that of North Lanarkshire, where an outgoing Councillor, having been soundly defeated at the polls in 2013, now sits on the Education Committee as representative of the Boys Brigade.
More in due course
*Mr Brown seems to be referring to the 2004 report on Religious Observance, and subsequent (2011) Government guidance, which recommends that Religious Observance be non-confessional. The recommendation is non-binding, generally ignored, and did nothing to prevent the Kirktonholme scqndal of which he seems strangely unaware.
(I discussed this and related issues at the Humanist Society of Scotland’s Glasgow branch meeting on Sunday 15 February 2015)
The Parliamentary Motion
S4M-12148: 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.
Stewart Maxwell, SNP, West Scotland, Convener of the Education and Culture Committee, to which the Public Petitions Committee has forwarded our Petition.
In order of signing: Bill Kidd, SNP, Glasgow Anniesland; Christine Grahame, SNP, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale; Kenneth Gibson, SNP, Cunninghame North; Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Green Party, Glasgow; Rob Gibson, SNP, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross; James Dornan, SNP, Glasgow Cathcart, substitute member, Education and Culture Committee; Richard Simpson, Scottish Labour, Mid Scotland and Fife; David Torrance, SNP, Kirkaldy (so that Spencer Fildes, Scottish Secular Society Chair, and sponsor of our petition, is his constituent), Deputy Convener, Public Petitions Committee; John Finnie, Independent, Highlands and Islands; Alison McInnes, Scottish Liberal Democrats, North East Scotland; Jean Urquhart, Independent, Highlands and Islands; Elaine Murray, Scottish Labour, Dumfriesshire; Joan McAlpine, Scottish National Party, South Scotland; Mary Fee, Scottish National Party, South Scotland; Tavish Scott, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Shetland Islands, substitute member, Education and Culture Committee; Mike MacKenzie, Scottish National Party, Highlands and Islands; Cara Hilton, Scottish Labour, Dunfermline; Claire Baker, Scottish Labour, Mid-Scotland/Fife; John Wilson, Independent, Central Scotland.
Note that support crosses party lines (only one Parliamentary Party is absent), and is strong in areas where creationism might be more of a problem, despite the possible electoral cost of opposing it.
I also note with some pleasure that two of the signatories were present when we gave evidence in favour of our petition.
The Kirktonholme Scandal, September 2013; all pupils in Assembly given copies of the extreme creationist pseudo-textbook Truth be Told; Exposing the Myth of Evolution, complete with images of dinosaurs as farmyard animals; for more details, see here and here and here.
The South Lanarkshire guidelines, formulated in the wake of this, ensuring proper supervision of chaplains, application of Curriculum for Excellence standards to their input, and school management accountability for their actions
The Scottish Secular Society petition, PE01530, now referred from the Public Petitions Committee to the Education and Culture Committee, as we had hoped. Petition Abstract (shown here yet again because of repeated real or affected misunderstanding):
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.
Nothing more. No legislation needed, no attacks on religion, no restriction of discussion; only a ban on misrepresenting long-refuted doctrines as viable.
Re: PE01530 – Guidance on how creationism is presented in schools
I am writing on behalf of the Society of Biology, the single unified body for biology across the UK, as such we cover biological sciences and the teaching of biology in schools and universities. Our vision is to be recognised as the body responsible for supporting biologists and presenting their views in both public funding and policy debates and discussions of professional, procedural and societal matters. The Society
actively supports developments in schools across the UK; in Scotland this has been particularly as a core member of the Learned Societies’ Group on Scottish Science Education1 . We are therefore writing to convey our view on the proposal to offer Scottish schools guidance on the teaching of evolution and creationism in the science curriculum. As the voice of biology we advocate that biological evolution (together with the geological and astrophysical evidence on the history of the earth and universe) forms a core component of the biological sciences and as such should be taught in biology lessons, alongside the importance of an evidence-based approach to understanding our world. In contrast, creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas are not based on scientific evidence and therefore should not be taught in the context of a science class or presented as scientific theory.
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. When such topics arise in a science class there are opportunities to explain or explore why creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories. 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 regard that last sentence as particularly important. Teachers may well shy away from questions of this kind because of embarrassment at their lack of knowledge of how to deal with them (in the US, according to research published in Science, this is a problem even in the biology classroom). We would assume that in Scotland all specialist biology teachers will be well versed in evolution as part of their training, and hope that this is also true for other primary or secondary teachers dealing with the life sciences. We also think that science teachers need to be aware that creationism has no right to speak for religions, or indeed for any individual religion, as a whole, while all Religious and Moral Education teachers should be aware that creationism and what calls itself “Intelligent Design” have been thoroughly refuted.
We await further developments.
Truth to Tell contains the usual attack on Haeckel, with the usual claim that this invalidates all the developmental evidence we now have for evolution, some 130 years later. As Diogenes surmised (see his comments on the earlier post), this is accompanied by a completely meaningless image meant to represent a human foetus. The accompanying text makes clear the real agenda: “A human embryo starts as a human, ends as a human, and is a human the entire time.” The figure (click for full scale view), and accompanying text, speaks for itself:
The reference to human footprints in coal, pp l03 – 104, doesn’t even get the dates of the Carboniferous right:
“As an example, according to evolutionists, the coal in the Upper Carboniferous layer is supposed to be 250 million years old. Humans did not evolve, according to this theory, until about 3 million years ago. Yet we have found human footprints in coal layers that are supposed to be 250 million years old.”
As Diogenes reminds us, the Carboniferous ended 299 million years ago. The number 250 million, the claim that the impressions are human footprints, and the description of 250 million years ago as Carboniferous, probably come via John C. Whitcomb and Henry Morris, The Genesis Flood, p. 172. The footprints, if such they be, were described in a 1940 Scientific American article, which concluded, however, that they were probably carvings, or, if not, footprints of some as yet unrecognized species, see here for more details. However, that article did contain the rhetorical hypothetical
“If man, or even his ape ancestor’s early mammalian ancestor, existed as far back as the Carboniferous Period in any shape, then the whole science of geology is so completely wrong that all the geologists will resign their jobs and take up truck driving.”
Of course, that was meant to be a reductio ad absurdum, but Creationists have no sense of irony, and this is the kind of thing they really jump on. Indeed, Apologetics Press, publishers of the books in question, quote-mines the article in a separate posting here, with fanciful chalked in foot shapes.
Truth be Told continues:
“How could the coal layers be 250 million years old, if the humans who made tracks in them did not evolve until 247 million years after coal formed? The truth is, neither humans nor coal are millions of years old. After the Flood, Noah or his descendants could have left their footprints in the coal while it was just beginning to form a few thousand years ago. In summary, coal forms when plants are buried very quickly.The upright trees in coal prove this [there are other references to polystrate fossils, of course.]Scientists are now able to form coal in the laboratory in only a few months, so we know it does not take millions of years to form. Furthermore, things like human footprints show that the coal is not millions of years old.”
No references anywhere in the book, but there is a true/false question in the Chapter Review, “Human footprints have been found in coal that evolutionists date to be 250 million years old.” Guess what the answer is supposed to be.
A detailed analysis of all the errors would require a book as long as the original, so I’ll leave it there.