Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Creationism In Schools Isn't Science - CrISIS

BCSE is delighted to announce our support for a new petition.  We introduced the background to the campaign here.

The petition is directed towards Michael Gove and states:
Creationism is known, and officially acknowledged, to be contrary to scientific fact. We therefore demand that creationism should not be presented as a valid scientific position, nor creationist websites and resources be promoted, in publicly funded schools or in any youth activities run on publicly funded school premises.
Please sign the petition and spread the word.

Here are the details:

Despite existing Department for Education guidance on the teaching of Creationism, recent events show additional protection is necessary.

This April, all Year 11 children in a state funded school were brought together and had a visitor introduced to them as a scientist. He then spent the next one and a half hours presenting these sixteen year olds with a series of well polished Young Earth Creationist claims, described as scientific theory.

The visitor was Philip Bell, a full time Evangelical preacher from Creation Ministries International (CMI) who presents creationist views as scientific facts and denies evolution. He states on his website that his preferred method of evangelising is infiltrating at a grassroots level as he feels this has more successful conversions.

 CMI described the school visit on their web site as ‘ministry to school children’.

The parents knew nothing of this until after the event, when one, who happens to be a trained Geologist, and thus qualified to evaluate what had been said, wrote to the school to complain. 

The Chair of Governors replied that this was all part of the Religious Education (RE)curriculum and that she should not worry because they also invited a speaker ‘to present the case for evolutionism’ so that both sides were heard, both ‘scientists’ were given equal time and both talks were presented to the children as ‘a belief’.

These recent events at St Peter's Church of England School, Exeter, show creationists are now openly using RE classes and the school timetable to advance their claim to be offering a valid scientific alternative to established knowledge, even within the State school system.

The school is adamant it has done nothing wrong despite presenting creationism on equal terms with modern science to sixteen year olds. 

In a recent statement, the Department for Education has stated that secretary of state for education, Michael Gove is ‘crystal clear’ that creationism has no scientific validity and should not be taught as science. Yet here we have a school presenting Creationism as a valid scientific position, and justifying this by reference to Religious Education.

Mr Gove might be keen to show that his Free Schools could not possibly succumb to such infiltration, but this incident demonstrates that even state-maintained schools need more clarity and better protection.

This is unacceptable.

There is also a facebook page:

Sunday, 24 April 2011

View From the Pulpit - Pope

From here:

Church teaching holds that Roman Catholicism and evolutionary theory are not necessarily at odds: A Christian can, for example, accept the theory of evolution to help explain developments, but is taught to believe that God, not random chance, is the origin of the world. The Vatican, however, warns against creationism, or the overly literal interpretation of the Bibilical account of creation.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

View from the Pulpit - Martin Rees

From here:

Campaigning against religion can be socially counterproductive. If teachers take the uncompromising line that God and Darwinism are irreconcilable, many young people raised in a faith-based culture will stick with their religion and be lost to science. Moreover, we need all the allies we can muster against fundamentalism - a palpable, perhaps growing concern.
Mainstream religions - such as the Anglican Church - should be welcomed as being on our side in any such confrontation. (Indeed, one reason I would like to see them stronger is that the archbishops who lead the Church of England, Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, two remarkable but utterly different personalities, both elevate the tone of our public life.)
. . .
It is astonishing that human brains, which evolved to cope with the everyday world, have been able to grasp the counterintuitive mysteries of the cosmos and the quantum. But there seems no reason why they should be matched to every intellectual quest - we could easily be as unaware of crucial aspects of reality as a monkey is of the theory of relativity.
This seems to have been Charles Darwin's attitude to religion, at least at some stage in his life. In a letter to the Swiss-American biologist Louis Agassiz, he said: "The whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe as he can."
This is a glaringly different stance from that adopted by some of Darwinism's high-profile proponents today. We should all oppose - as Darwin did - views manifestly in conflict with the evidence, such as creationism. (Last year's Templeton winner, Francisco Ayala, has been in the forefront of that campaign in the US.) But we shouldn't set up this debate as "religion v science"; instead, we should strive for peaceful coexistence with at least the less dogmatic strands of mainstream religions, which number many excellent scientists among their adherents.
This, at least, is my view - a pallid and boring one, both for those who wish to promote constructive engagement between science and religion, and for those who prefer antagonistic debate. I am, I suppose, an "accommodationist" - a disparaging epithet used by anti-religion campaigners to describe those who don't share their fervour. Richard Dawkins described me as a "compliant quisling". 

The Edinburgh Science Festival, Creationism and the Centre for Intelligent Design

The 21st Floor has a review by Keir Liddle of a debate on the creeping of creationism into schools, held as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival (EdSciFest: Creeping Creationism) - unfortunately I no longer reside there and couldn't come along, but one of my BCSE colleagues Paul Braterman was there to take part in the event.  Keir's take was that the evidence that creationism was encroaching into Scottish schools remains unproven.  This may be so, but there are indeed worrying developments nationally (see for example Creationism in the Deep South (of England)).

It turns out that Dr Alastair Noble of the Centre for Intelligent Design was in the audience, and has penned a response to the debate, which can be read at the C4ID website (Creeping Creationism or Galloping Intolerance at the Edinburgh Science Festival?).  Noble complains that:
One speaker – a member of the Glasgow "Brights" compared "creationists" and "intelligent design proponents" to "Holocaust deniers" – a claim as silly as it is scandalous.
Actually, in my view it's not scandalous.  It would have been had the accusation been that believers in ID creationism were anti-semites or Nazis, but really the statement isn't that unreasonable.  The existence of the attempted genocide of the Jews by the Nazi German state is pretty incontrovertible (and generally uncontroversial).  There is plenty of documentary and physical evidence to support the existence not only of the "Final Solution", but of the means by which it was to be achieved.

What I imagine was being said here (and I'd like to hear from those who were there) was that creationists (and I lump those who believe in the hopelessly unscientific ID version of creationism in that term) are essentially in denial of an enormous body of evidence that has been accumulated since "On the Origin of Species" was published over a century and a half ago.  To deny this body of evidence is akin to saying that because there aren't any ancient Romans in Britain we were never conquered by the Romans.  Or, indeed, like those holocaust deniers who argue that the attempted genocide of the Jews never happened, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

I must call Noble on this statement:
Firstly, no matter how often it is asserted, intelligent design is not creationism.  The latter is a religious position; the former a minimal commitment to intelligent causation based on empirical evidence.  I know this is uncomfortable to the humanists, but if they wish to enter this debate they need to know what they are talking about.
Intelligent Design isn't even Bad's not science.  Intelligent Design is a parody of science devised by American creationists to circumvent constitutional prohibition of religious teaching in American schools. Given that the three main figures in C4ID (Noble, Nevin and Galloway) appear to have a particular evangelical religious viewpoint, it would be attractive to know exactly who or what they believe to be the "Designer".

Alastair Noble may continue to proclaim that C4ID is not going to target schools, but given his roles in Scottish education, is this a stance that is likely to be maintained?  As Keir Liddle points out:
I’m not sure what Nobles definition of “targeting” is but I would include sending resources to schools perhaps falls under it… More research is needed to find out where these materials are being sent and where they are being used – only then will we know the true extent of the problem (or not) of creeping creationism in Scottish Schools.
Noble goes on to write:
If a scientific finding, like the vast banks of functional information in DNA ("the genetic code"), lacks a credible evolutionary explanation, as it does, the alternative of a source in intelligent mind must, at least, be worthy of consideration.  That’s the wholly scientific approach of making an inference to the best explanation – and one that is known to have similar explanatory power elsewhere, as, for example, in the generation of computer software or print media.  Now that’s getting to the heart of intelligent design, without invoking any faith position.
I think Alastair Noble (who has a doctorate in Chemistry) really needs to bone up on his biology if he takes seriously the view that the functional "information" in DNA lacks a credible evolutionary explanation.  he goes on:
If the science of origins cannot be debated freely in schools or anywhere else, then it’s not creeping creationism we should be concerned about, but galloping intolerance.
The science of the origins and evolution of life on Earth should be debated freely.  Unfortunately for Noble and C4ID, the crucial word there is science.  Given the origins of Intelligent Design creationism, its failure to make testable predictions, and its complete inadequacy as an means for explaining the diversity of life, it has no place in science education, or in any educational venue that seeks to propose it as science.

Originally posted at Wonderful Life.

Friday, 22 April 2011

BCSE submission for the National Curriculum Review

The BCSE sent the following letter to the National Curriculum Review on April 13th 2011:

National Curriculum Review 
The British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) is a voluntary body consisting of scientists, educators, and other interested parties, concerned with the provision of high-quality science education in the UK, and, more specifically, with countering attempts from creationist and related groups to undermine such provision regarding the teaching of evolution and Earth science. We have been monitoring such groups for several years, and compiled an extensive database (freely available on our website) concerning their activities. 
We therefore wish to submit the attached, in evidence, addressing specifically Question 11a of the review, discussing those aspects of the knowledge that we “regard as essential to include in the Programme(s) of Study for Science,” and that are of particular relevance to our concerns. 
Respectfully submitted,
Professor Paul S. Braterman, MA, DPhil., DSc., for BCSE

The attached evidence was as follows:

Evidence offered by the British Centre for Science Education to the National Curriculum Review, in response to Question 11a: What knowledge do you regard as essential to include in the Programme(s) of Study for science?  
Evolution is the core unifying concept of 21st-century life science, and provides a vital perspective on the related core topics of metabolism, cell structure, and reproduction.[1] Within this broad concept, common descent is easily grasped in terms of family resemblances, while selection (both artificial and natural) based on variation has familiar everyday applications in such important areas as animal breeding, agriculture, and medicine (mutating viruses; the emergence of resistance). The fossil record, with its immediate appeal to young minds (we all love dinosaurs), provides a link between “Organisms, their behaviour and the environment”, “Materials, their properties and their Earth”, and, at a more advanced level, “Energy, forces and space”. We therefore advocate introducing the topic early, and elaborating it at the appropriate successive levels, using the converging lines of evidence as a powerful example of “How science works”. All of this applies whether science is taught as a single subject, or divided into separate curricular subjects. 
Evolution, and, relatedly, Earth Science are the only two areas where the core concepts need to be defended against objections whose basis lies outside science, although these objections are sometimes supported by pseudoscientific arguments, as in “creation science”, Intelligent Design, and bogus “controversies” over such matters as techniques of dating. BCSE therefore strongly welcomes the present official position on the importance of evolution, and the status of creationism and intelligent design, as set out in the Free Schools FAQs, which state:[2]
We do not expect creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas to be taught as valid scientific theories in any state-funded school. We would expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum.
and in other ministerial statements,[3] as well as in longstanding curricular guidance.[4]
Since these comments refer specifically to Free Schools, which are designed to have maximum latitude, we must presume that they apply with equal force to all schools, including those that follow the curriculum, which should read accordingly. 
We believe that teachers, especially at the pre-examination levels where topics may well be taught by nonspecialists, would welcome guidance on these matters. Some specific suggestions, and detailed rationale, are as follows:
Specific suggestions:
The underlying themes of evolution, common ancestry, and (another object of creationist denial) the antiquity of the Earth are already implicit in the descriptions of key stages and levels, but for the reasons stated we respectfully suggest that they could be more clearly identified. Using the existing language as a starting point, we offer the following illustrations: 
Key Stage 3.3.d, after “can be classified” add “into families”; this two word addition introduces the concept of similarity based on descent.
Key Stage 3.4.a, after “chemical and physical processes” add “acting over very long periods of time”.
Key Stage 4.5.b, c; the present text:
b. variation within species can lead to evolutionary changes and similarities and differences between species can be measured and classified
c. the ways in which organisms function are related to the genes in their cells
is confusing, since variation and evolution are mentioned before the role of genes, no mention is made of the role of genes in inheritance, hereditary variation is not singled out from developmental, and no mention is made of selection.
An alternative might be:
b. the genes transmit inherited information, and control and regulate development and metabolism
c. genetic variation can lead to evolutionary changes and the formation of new species. Differences between species can be measured, and species classified into families. This classification can be checked against the fossil record.
Organisms, their behaviour and the environment, Level 6: After “applications and implications of science, such as the use of selective breeding” add “They understand the concepts of natural and artificial selection."
Level 7: Mention evolutionary relationships alongside inherited and environmental variation among the examples of contexts in which “more abstract knowledge and understanding” is applied and used.
Materials, their properties and the Earth, Level 5, after “the deposition of sediments” add “the laying down of strata”. Rationale: successions of strata provide the most familiar and most easily understood evidence for the concept of deep time.
Energy, forces and space, Level 8: Replace “developing understanding of the structure of the solar system” with “developing understanding of the formation and structure of the solar system.” Again, this is a matter of making the concept more explicit. For instance, analysis of moon rocks led directly to our present understanding of the late heavy bombardment, and the formation of the inner planets by accretion.
We are aware of a crypto-creationist cottage industry, which manufactures or imports creationist materials while concealing their nature, and misdescribing them as educational aids. Striking examples include the imitation textbook, Explore Evolution,[5] and a website called World Around Us,[6]  which even succeeded in publicising  itself  in the Times Educational Supplement.[7] Explore Evolution was written by a team of creationists and Intelligent Design advocates at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, and distributed to schools and universities in the UK by a creationist organisation calling itself Truth in Science.[8] The authorship of World Around Us is not revealed, although on internal evidence we suspect the involvement of Sylvia Baker, well-known creationist, founder member and scientific adviser to the Christian Schools Trust, a group of over 40 schools who take the historical reality of the Fall as a core belief, teach evolution alongside purported alternatives in such a way that evolution will not be believed, and (according to Dr. Baker's 2009 PhD thesis) succeed in producing students three quarters of whom believe that both Noah's flood, and the construction of Eve from Adam's rib, represent actual historical events.[9]
Creationist inroads, to the extent that they occur (and our files indicate that they most certainly do), have a double importance; as examples of false material being taught as fact, and as symptoms of weakness in the preparedness and/or guidance of classroom teachers. In this context, we would draw attention to a recent study of the situation in the United States, where some 60% of biology teachers fail to teach evolution at all or with conviction, not because of creationist disbelief (even in the US, a minority position among such teachers), but because of lack of confidence in their own grounding in the subject.[10] In the UK, one would hope that this particular problem would not arise at the higher levels, where subjects are taught by discipline specialists, but may nonetheless occur at the lower levels, where the sciences are not always taught separately, and perhaps should not be, but at the cost of having topics covered by nonspecialists, who may well appreciate the kind of guidance that we are recommending here. 
[1] See Principles and big ideas of science education, Ed. Wynne Harlen, Association for Science Education, 2010, Available on  the ASE website
[9] PhD Thesis, University of Warwick, Education Department, 2009, available as , esp. p 167 (Table 7.2) and pp 345 on, Appendix 3: “Statement concerning: The place of the teaching of the Creation/Evolution debate and Intelligent Design in schools affiliated to the Christian Schools Trust [2009]”
[10] M. B. Berkman, E. Plutzer. Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom. Science, 2011; 331 (6016): 404 DOI: 10.1126/science.1198902; Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms by Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Scientist imam: Muslims need to talk about evolution

From here:

How common is the creationist position among Muslims?
It is the default position. Most of us are taught that evolution is wrong, unproven and a blasphemy. A lot of people enjoy science programmes on TV such as those by David Attenborough, but they tend to say he's an unbeliever so we can't trust him.
. . .
What is the best way to raise the issue of evolution among Muslims?
We need more Muslim scientists who are known to be devout to speak out about their views. I have had a lot of support from Muslim scientists, but they wouldn't speak out because they knew the reaction they were likely to get. They were scared.
I want Muslims to question creationism, says the physicist and imam who has had death threats for supporting evolution

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Creationism in the Deep South (of England)

A whole year group of year 11 chidren are brought together and have a man introduced to them as a scientist. He talks to them for one and a half hours about his views on what he says is a very controversial area of science. In fact he thinks the world is just six thousand years old and that the world's scientists are biased against him and his scientific colleagues simply because they are against Christianity.  He is able to promote his web site to the kids, a web site full of more misleading nonsense claims.

This chap is actually Philip Bell, a full time Evangelical hell fire preacher from Creation Ministries International (CMI), spreading the word to anyone who will have him.

We covered one of his talks here and you can judge his probity for yourself.  He quoted Jesus on BBC radio as justification for lying (I am not making this up - go read our report).

This happened recently in a state funded Church of England school in Exeter.

One of the parents, who knew nothing about her children being proselytised by a fundamentalist until after the event, and, as a trained Geologist, was familiar with the vacuousness of the pseudoscientific claims being made, wrote to the school to complain.

She was told by the Chair of Governors that this was all part of the RE curriculum and not to worry because they also invited an "evolutionist" to speak, that both sides had equality, both "scientists" were given equal time and both talks were presented to the children as "a belief".

When the parent wrote back pointing out the huge problems with this and reluctantly withdrawing her children from worship, since she is a mainstream Anglican and totally opposed to such unscientific beliefs, the Head's reply included;
You should be aware that I, having a duty of care to both of your children, shall be monitoring your actions and their consequences for the children with regard to such matters very carefully indeed.
The school is adamant it has done nothing wrong despite presenting creationism on equal terms with modern science to sixteen year olds. CMI called the event "Ministry to schoolchildren".

The story was covered here and on local radio and another CMI member, Gavin Cox, has been demonstrating a heady mixture of ignorance, arrogance and a willingness to abuse anyone who disagrees with him in excruciating detail in the comments.  His first dollop of impressive sciencey sounding verbiage is soon pulled apart which is a cue for name calling and abuse.  He brings up charges of Nazism, repeatedly calls an Anglican vicar a RC Bishop, despite being corrected, and much, I imagine, to the entertainment of both. Could sixteen year olds be expected to see through his confident delivery of such tripe?

Mr Gove is Crystal Clear that creationism should not be taught as science. Here we have a school presenting Creationism as a valid scientific belief (whatever that actually means) on an equal basis with modern science.

Mr Gove might be keen to show that his Free Schools could not possibly succumb to this kind of thing but this incident demonstrates that mainstream state education needs more clarity and better protection from such fundamentalist wordplay being used to make a mockery of his position.

More to follow on this story soon.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Evolution is a Hoax

This is a complete list of the scientific evidence of evolution being a hoax.

Government Guidelines re the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design

The national archive now holds the teachers guidance notes here.

We have updated our links in the Explore Evolution Exposed leaflet and in the Memorandum that accompanied the letter to Michael Gove - if you spot any more our of date links please let us know.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Common Sense or Utter Nonsense

By Paul Braterman

Glasgow’s very own Centre for Intelligent Design have been trying to persuade the denizens of Facebook by quoting the philosopher Thomas Nagel. C4ID seem to have been particularly impressed by the following argument:

“Sophisticated members of the contemporary culture have been so thoroughly indoctrinated that they easily lose sight of the fact that evolutionary reductionism defies common sense. A theory that defies common sense can be true, but doubts about its truth should be suppressed only in the face of exceptionally strong evidence.” 
(Thomas Nagel, Philosophy & Public Affairs 36, 187-205, 2008)

It is difficult to see how one could cram a larger number of logical errors into so small a space.

We begin with an extraordinary smear on the writer’s opponents. The more people know, the more firmly they acknowledge the fact of evolution. This, by a populist inversion, is converted into an ad hominem argument against such acknowledgement. The suggestion that doubts are “suppressed” is another smear, based on a pretended ignorance of the robust re-evaluation to which all scientific theories are continually exposed.

Reductionism is not defined in Nagel’s paper (in fact, the passage quoted is the only place where the concept is used), so I don’t know how he is using this notoriously slippery word, nor why purported explanations in terms of intelligent design (the proffered alternative) escape this fate, if indeed they do. However, it is worth pointing out that evolutionary explanations by their very nature describe the behaviour of systems, or even (if we restrict ourselves to the last billion years or so) of interlocking populations of systems, the very opposite of reductionism. I find it shocking that a philosopher of mind, of all people, should be unaware of this.

Worst of all is the appeal to common sense. Common sense is an amalgam of received and unquestioned wisdom, unexamined and often unconscious philosophical assumptions, and extrapolations from everyday experience. What appears to be in accord with common sense must depend on how much one already knows. Thus separate creation of kinds may appear to be in accord with common sense to someone who is completely ignorant of the richness of the fossil record, its relationship to the classification of modern organisms from Linnaeus onwards, the reappearance of the same Linnaean patterns in family trees based on molecular phylogeny, and the overwhelming evidence of the antiquity of the Earth. To someone familiar with these things, it will be the concept of separate creation that violates common sense.

Nagel does not tell us what he would regard as “exceptionally strong evidence”, just as he does not tell us what counts as “evolutionary reductionism”, but the evidence for evolution is presumably strong enough to persuade him to renew his annual flu jab. Since he is writing in a journal concerned with public affairs, it is also worth pointing out that it is strong enough to have led to changes in public policy on the use of antibiotics and pesticides, so as to avoid encouraging the (reductionist?) evolution of resistant strains.

However, the appeal to common sense is an intrinsically weak argument for other, much deeper, reasons. Common sense is an appeal to common experience. Much like the “intuition” discussed in Bertram Russell’s essay on mysticism and logic, it is within the domain of common experience that it has the greatest credibility. Common sense tells us that we are standing still on solid ground, that animals and vegetables are different kinds, that space is Euclidean, that the heavens are unchanging, that an object will eventually come to rest if no force is acting on it, and that tables are solid. That the earth is moving, and that the continents themselves are moving across its surface, that a man shares half his genetic information with a mushroom, that matter distorts the space around it, that the universe is expanding, that a moving object will continue along its trajectory until something stops it, that matter is made up out of atoms and that almost all the mass of these atoms is crammed into a tiny nucleus less than one billionth of the total volume, all of these are violations of common sense. Nonetheless, they are fundamental facts of which any educated person should be aware, even at the risk of being described by Professor Nagel as “sophisticated” and “thoroughly indoctrinated”.

Paul Braterman came into direct contact with Creationism during his time as chemistry professor in Texas, and is now back in Glasgow as an honorary fellow at Glasgow University. His next book, “From Stars to Stalagmites”, will be published by World Scientific in 2011.

Creation Watch - Harun Yahya - Wolverhampton

This is an audio recording of an event which took place at Wolverhampton University on March 8th, 2011 entitled "Evolution - Fact or Fiction." Which was essentially 1.5 hours of misinformation followed by 30 minutes of question avoidance.

This event was presented by two Turkish men claiming to be brain surgeons, and was organised by Harun Yahya (aka Adnan Oktar.) It was one of 7 events held in March throughout the UK including 3 universities and 1 college.

BCSE Talk - London April 24th

Creationism, Intelligent Design and Science Education in Britain
Roger Stanyard
Sunday 24th April, 11am
Attacks on science education, particularly from creationists funded from the USA and Australia, are becoming more vocal and increasingly frequent within the UK.
Roger Stanyard from the British Centre for Science Education will speak about their dedicated campaign to keep all forms of pseudo-scientific creationist beliefs, including Intelligent Design, out of science classrooms in the UK.

From here