Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Creationism and Science Education in the UK - time to stop laughing and to start worrying

I recently presented a talk to North East Humanists on Creationism in the UK.  They asked me to write a short piece for their newsletter.  Here it is;

Creationism and Science Education in the UK - time to stop laughing and to start worrying
At the British Centre for Science Education [BCSE] we value the fact that we live in a free country.  We don’t want to live in a place where people are not free to hold their own religious or non religious views and are free to talk about them.  We simply want to keep creationism out of science classes.  Well, obviously, you might think.  But do we really need to worry about this?
Creationism is viewed by most folks as baffling, amusing and ultimately probably harmless and this attitude is perfectly understandable.  Creationism in the UK has, until recent years, largely consisted of preachers standing on street corners shouting at the sinners as they pass by.  Such creationists point out the dangers of learning about evolution like this, “Young people are encouraged into a way of thinking that leads to atheism, hedonism, despair and moral bankruptcy. . .”
Let’s call this kind of activity “popularising”.  Arguably we don’t need to do much about it.   In fact this sort of nonsense does our job for us as most folks tend to laugh at pictures of Jesus cuddling baby dinosaurs or at the suggestion that the earth is only 6,000 years old.  Each to their own people say.  Everyone can have their own opinion people say.  It’s part of being British people say.  I agree.  
The problem is that creationists no longer restrict themselves to this kind of behaviour. In recent years a new type of activity has arisen that involves trying to knock holes in biology and science in general.  Remember that they think that modern biology leads to evils, so if they can even just manage to sow the seeds of doubt or confusion in children’s minds that’s great, and never mind the exam results.  The aim is to make the general public mistrust scientists and leave a door open for the creationists to exploit.   
This kind of covert activity has been greatly boosted by materials (we know) and funding (we surmise) from the USA where pictures of people riding dinosaurs are much more common and apparently don’t have the same immunising effects against creationism as they do over here.  Faced with a constitution banning any promotion of religion in state funded schools, and a whole parade of court rulings specificially ruling that creationism in it’s various disguises is religious, the American creationist organisations have now resorted to removing from their arguments all reference to god, religion and creationism.  Instead they produce materials claiming that biological science is on the brink of collapse and that Darwin was wrong after all.  
This “framing” of the attempt to get “religiously generated nonsense” into science classes  as “actual science supported by increasing numbers of scientists worldwide” neatly avoids all the US laws and coincidently stops British people laughing at the pictures of Jesus cuddling dinosaurs.  This also appeals to the British sense of fair play and at long last the British creationists finally seem to have picked up on this.
This kind of activity can be described as “infiltration” and here are some examples of it from here in the UK.  
A beautifully produced biology “text book” called Explore Evolution is so well disguised as science that even science graduates can miss the fact that it is full of distortions and downright lies. This book was sent to every UK school librarian early last year with a letter from a professor at a leading UK university recommending it as a resource that fits in with the curriculum (it doesn’t).  Find out more here.
Another recent example is a web site doing much the same thing that got mentioned as a similar resource in the Times Educational Supplement.
The tactic of framing their religious propaganda as a scientific controversy is working.  The School Librarians Association refused to alert it’s members to the fact that this book is a creationist tract and should therefore be shelved as such (if at all), because they tell us that they don’t take sides in matters of scientific dispute. This book could well be sitting on your own child’s school library now - in the science section.  The TES offered us a similar defence when challenged about their publicising of creationist material without making it plain it was just creationism which is specifically ruled out of use in science classes by way of government guidelines.  As yet they have ignored our requests to link to our own expose of the material.
With such a track record of dishonesty and subterfuge can creationists be trusted to run state funded schools without pumping children’s heads full of such nonsense in science classes?
We don’t think they can.  
Join us (it’s free) and help us to keep creationism out of UK science classes.

Mark Edon
BCSE Secretary

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