Monday, 14 December 2009

Truth in Science - Letter to all UK schools

As reported here we can now confirm that it is indeed Truth in Science, led by Professor Andy McIntosh of Leeds University, that have sent creationist material to UK school librarians claiming that it is suitable for the science curriculum.

Here we will analyse the various claims made in the letter sent to the schools.  The text of the letter will be shown with our comments interspersed.  Here is the first paragraph of the letter;
Truth in Science is pleased to provide a complimentary review copy of the new UK edition of the textbook Explore Evolution: The Arguments for and against Neo-Darwinism. This textbook promotes enquiry-based learning, encouraging students to participate in the process of discovery, deliberation and argument that scientists use to form their theories.

In fact the "UK Edition" appears identical to the US one.  Different curriculum and exam requirements regardless.

Enquiry based learning does not usually entail missing out significant bits of evidence so as to mislead.  But this book does that repeatedly.  For details look here.
The new textbook looks at seven areas of biology that are typically viewed as confirming the modern theory of evolution. These include fossil succession, anatomical homology, embryology, natural selection, and natural selection with mutation. For each area of study, Explore Evolution explains the evidence and arguments in support of Darwin’s theory and then examines the evidence and arguments that lead some scientists to question the adequacy of Darwinian explanations. Each chapter concludes with a section called Further Debate that explores the current state of the discussion.

Reviewing Explore Evolution for  the serious scientific journal, Evolution & Development (2009; 11 [1]: 124-125), Brian D. Metscher of the University of Vienna described it as "159 glossy pages of color-illustrated creationist nostalgia," adding, "All the old favorites are here — fossils saying no, all the Icons, flightless Ubx flies, irreducible flagella, even that irritating homology-is-circular thing. There are no new arguments, no improved understanding of evolution, just a remastered scrapbook of the old ideas patched together in a high-gloss package pre-adapted to survive the post-Dover legal environment. The whole effort would be merely pathetic if it did not actually represent a serious and insidious threat to education."
The textbook is ideally suited for use in the classroom and for teachers who wish to increase their understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of modern evolutionary theory. With detailed analyses and a balanced portrayal of various contrasting views, it offers an insight into how science works in the real world. The thoughtful student will be empowered to think more critically, recognising the difference between actual “facts” and the “spin” which may occasionally accompany their presentation. As a result, they will be better placed to reassess their own views - in short, trained how to think instead of simply being told what to think.

If you were to ask biologists for a list of the weaknesses of evolutionary theory they would likely be rather non-plussed.  Whilst there is plenty of scientific debate about some of the fine details of how things evolve, 150 years of science has produced a large pile of evidence that supports evolution and none at all that contradicts it.

To discuss "both sides" of the imaginary scientific controversy is tantamount to teaching both sides of the moon landing hoax conspiracy theory in history lessons.
In recent years, successive UK Governments have sought to promote this approach in Science education throughout the curriculum. To accommodate this new emphasis, Examination Boards have rewritten their specifications at all key stages and a whole new raft of secondary and tertiary level textbooks have been published.

This is all very true.  But it isn't true that the book sent to UK schools is one of the new textbooks written to meet the UK Government requirements.  The book was originally published in the US and shows no sign of adaptation to the requirements of the UK education system.
Moreover, teachers are required to explore the “moral, social, cultural and spiritual implications” of each topic [1]. This is nowhere more pressing than in the field of biological origins. In the debate over origins, students deserve to be allowed to explore the evidence for and against evolution in the science classroom, and this should include a consideration of the possibility that organised complexity is purposeful and the product of intelligent causation.

Creationism was originally called "Creationism" or "biblical fundamentalism".  In fact it is the reason for the current common usage of the word "fundamentalism".  Thanks to laws in the US preventing the state teaching of religion the name has changed several times; Creation Science, Intelligent Design and now "Intelligent Causation".  But it is still creationism in it's content, which has a basic structure as follows;

Creationists argue that there are two possible explanations of life on earth, evolution from a common ancestor or divine intervention.  Creationists try to poke holes in the evidence supporting evolution and then claim their god is responsible.  Truth in Science try to poke holes and then nod and wink vigorously towards their divine creator.
The book is not primarily about geology, but uses classical geological timescales although there are other approaches [2-5]. Explore Evolution shows that even using the traditional gradual development hypothesis, the fossil evidence does not favour common evolutionary descent. There are many related current debates in physics, geology and chemistry relevant to the broader questions of origins: debates over the origin of the universe [6, 7], the age of the earth [2-5] and the origin of life [8, 9] itself. These have been deliberately left to one side.

The chap who has signed the letter and who heads up "Truth in Science", Professor Andy McIntosh, thinks that the world is less than 10,000 years old.  No one is suggesting that he is not perfectly entitled to his view, however wrong it might be. However, making up things about the actual scientific evidence and passing it off as the truth in order to get his view into science classes, is at the very least damaging to children's education and is undoubtedly dishonest, no matter how honestly he holds his views.

When he talks about the age of the earth and says that there are other approaches he is referring to adding up the ages of the people in the bible as a way of dating the earth.  We have heard him present and he took great pains to say that he makes no secret of heis view on the age of the earth.  Funny that.  He doesn't actually mention that in this letter, nor anywhere on the Truth in Science web site.

Reference [3] given confirms our comments above as it is from the Institute for Creation Research.  Here is a quote from it's founder;

"The only Bible-honoring conclusion is, of course, that Genesis 1-11 is the actual historical truth, regardless of any scientific or chronologic problems thereby entailed". [Henry M. Morris, Remarkable Birth, p. 82. Quoted in Kenneth R. Miller, "Scientific Creationism versus Evolution" Science and Creationism, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 56.]

To put things into some kind of perspective, if McIntosh's age of the earth were translated into a geographical difference of opinion then he would be arguing that the distance from Lands End to John O Groats is actually about six inches.
It is our hope that a balanced and fair exploration of the evidence for and against Darwin’s theory of evolution may inspire students to examine these other interesting areas, and think through the issues for themselves.

With this book, we also enclose a reply card to give the opportunity to request further copies of the textbook (if available) should anyone wish to use it in the classroom. Information may also be requested on other teaching aids including PowerPoint presentations and lesson plans. In addition, we are planning to hols regional teacher training seminars. Please use the reply card or, alternatively, please send an email requesting further information to: info@truthinscience.org.uk . Please also refer to the Truth in Science website: www.truthinscience.org.uk .

I wonder if any science teachers reading this would like to find out about the additional materials and then supply us with a copy.  We would be happy to make public the materials being provided for all to see.
If for any reason you do not want to receive this book, please just mark the envelope “Return to Sender”. Alternatively, you can email us at info@truthinscience.org.uk and we will send you a pre-paid label to enable you to return the book without charge.

The letter is signed off;



This sign off is quite interesting in itself because of the information it does not contain.  It omits the alphabet soup of initials that professor McIntosh has previously always included after his name.  I wonder if any of the reputable professional and academic bodies involved have asked him not to sue their initials when he is promoting his religious views?  If so then this would put them in the same position as Leeds University that has publicly distanced itself from his views.

We continue to gather reports on the reaction to the distribution of this book and will bring you more news soon.

1 comment:

  1. [...] that Truth in Science are distributing the creationist text Explore Evolution to UK schools (Truth in Science – Letter to all UK schools › British Centre for Science Education).  There’s not much to add to the BCSE’s article.  Though I wonder how Truth [...]

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