Sunday, 11 March 2012

CrISIS revisited

Regular visitors to this blog will recall the CrISIS campaign from last year which was sparked off by a visit to a state funded high school in Exeter by a Young Earth creationist, Phillip Bell from CMI.

This resulted in a petition which now has over 5,000 signatories, a letter to Michael Gove signed by CrISIS founder Laura Horner, the BCSE, Ekklesia, the NSS and a veritable galaxy of star names from across a wide range of scientific and religious views.  This paved the way for the later launch of the much bigger "Teach Evolution Not Creationism" campaign, the refusal of several creationist Free School applications and amendments to the Free School funding agreement to rule out the presentation of such nonsense as a valid scientific viewpoint in any lesson.

Some notable supporters of CrISIS included;
Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Physics and Professor of Public Engagement in Science, Surrey

Simon Barrow for Ekklesia

Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford

Christopher C French, Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths College

The Rev Canon David Jennings, Rector of Burbage,Canon Theologian of Leicester Cathedral

Professor J Steve Jones, UCL

Professor David Colquhoun FRS, University College London

Clifford Longley, Consultant Editor to the Tablet, BBC Moral Maze panellist

Terry Sanderson, President of National Secular Society

Rev Michael Roberts, Vicar of Cockerham, Winmarleigh and Glasson, Hon Research Fellow in History, Lancaster Univ.

Simon Singh MBE

Canon Prof J.S. K. Ward Emeritus Regius Prof of Theology, Oxford

. . . and now

Prof John Spicer, Chair of Christians in Science South West

Prof John Bryant, Prof Emeritus of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Exeter
Coverage in the quality press and discussions with Hugo Swires MP resulted in a letter from Nick Gibb MP and eventually a response from Michael Gove who confirmed that creationism should not be presented as science in any subject.

We were therefore horrified to learn late last week that the school intended inviting another speaker from CMI, Dominic Statham to present creationism as a valid scientific viewpoint to children on Tuesday next week.  Worse still Dominic, a scientifically and theologically unqualified mechanical engineer, was described to the entire school year as “a well-known and well qualified speaker”, and his fringe Young Earth creationism was referred to as one of “the two main Christian views on the origin of the universe”. We were appalled and so, we understand, is Prof John Bryant the other guest participant.

We have therefore sent a letter on behalf of CrISIS and BCSE to the school and other concerned parties in the local authority and the local Bishop and others in the Diocese.  You can see the full details of the letter at the bottom of this post but the main points are summarised here:
  • Creationism is not science should not be presented as a valid scientific position in any subject.
  • Creationism is bad theology and presenting it as mainstream Anglican theology is nonsense.
  • Please cancel the event.
We are delighted to comment that we now understand that the visit from Dominic Statham is now cancelled although we await official confirmation of this.

We will keep you posted.

It has not escaped our notice that, if success is confirmed, this brief campaign may provide a model of how to make the case against creationists in publicly funded schools from an educational, scientific and theological perspective in such a way as to avoid the creationists stock response that this is just a bunch of atheists attacking Christianity and that somehow free speech is best served by exposing children to their nonsense.

The involvement of people across a wide range of religious and scientific viewpoints, where there is a vast majority in agreement with the findings of science over the past 200 years, highlights the absurdity of the creationists' specific scientific and theological claims and just as importantly their attempts to turn this into a culture war like that in the US where the situation is different in almost every important respect.

BCSE is delighted to work with all who are prepared to stand up against creationist attempts to subvert the UK education system regardless of their religious views.

- - -

Lettter to staff and Head of Governors, St Peter's School, Exeter

CC His Grace the Bishop of Exeter; 
School Admissions and Governance Advisers, Diocese of Exeter; 
Jennie Stephens (Devonshire County Council); 
Christine Channon (Devonshire County Council); 
Hugo Swire, MP

Dear Miss Parker and other fellow-educators,

On Friday, March 9, we learnt for the first time the full details of the Science and Faith impact day scheduled for Tuesday March 13. We were appalled. So, we understand, is Prof Bryant, one of the two guest participants. Moreover, Prof Spicer of Plymouth University, who took part last year, has told us that for much the same reasons as given here, he would not take part in such an event again.

You are presenting, as Prof Bryant’s opposite number, a scientifically and theologically unqualified mechanical engineer, Mr Dominic Statham. You have described him to the entire school year as “a well-known and well qualified speaker”, and referred to his fringe Young Earth creationism as one of “the two main Christian views on the origin of the universe”. The reality is that Mr Statham has no relevant qualifications, and maintains as a matter of scientific fact [i] that the earth is 6,000 years old, that Noah’s Ark is historical (but the mountains were lower then), that there are no valid fossil intermediates between humans and non-human primates, that the evidence for evolution is weak, and that scientists (including the signatories to this letter) who accept the radiometric age of the Earth are suppressing evidence to the contrary. Such nonsense should not be presented to innocent schoolchildren as a potentially valid point of view, and to do so is in violation of government guidelines, and of the positions taken by numerous eminent Church of England sources including the Archbishop of Canterbury,[ii] Professors Keith Ward, John Polkinghorne, and Alister McGrath, and many others.[iii]

The Government position is that creationism is not science and should not be presented as such in any lesson. Which, of course, is exactly what Mr. Statham intends to do, as you must know since the science teachers are invited to be present. His position is in clear violation of Government guidelines, and your presentation of it does grave injustice to the rich theological traditions of the Church of England itself, which has long since accepted the scientific and historical realities of evolution and an ancient Earth. Your inclusion in the programme, with equal weighting, of a genuine authority on religion-science issues, the distinguished geologist and bioethicist Prof John Bryant, is a clear embarrassment to Prof Bryant who has no wish to lend Mr Statham further unwarranted status.

We therefore appeal to you, even at this late date, to reconsider.

The facts of an ancient Earth, evolution, and common descent are supported by everything that we have learnt over the past 200 years in the areas of astronomy, cosmology, biochemistry, biology, geology, nuclear physics, and palaeontology, and independently further confirmed by the discoveries of the past decade in the area of molecular phylogeny.[iv] Thus creationism as put forward by CMI is devoid of scientific merit.

Last year, a colleague from Creation Ministries International (CMI) Mr Phillip Bell, took part in a similar event. This led to the launch of the CrISIS (Creation In Schools Isn't Science) campaign, gathering over 5,000 signatures, and serving as a trailblazer for a later petition with over 20,000 signatures. The 20 signatories of the letter to the Education Secretary in support of the CrISIS petition included two Church of England Canon theologians and one Church of England priest, as well as other religious leaders, alongside philosophers and scientists from across the belief spectrum.[v] These campaigns have helped lead to a clarification of government policy, in such a way as to make Mr. Statham’s visit inadmissible.

CMI itself has attacked the Church of England for its acceptance of evolution, which it describes[vi] as “appeasement of secularism” and its site [vii] is a chamber of horrors of pseudoscience, misrepresentation, and misquotation. The relationship between science and religion certainly has a place in the RE curriculum, but CMI has nothing to contribute to the discussion. On the contrary, Mr Statham and CMI advance Young Earth creationism, not as a theological doctrine, but as science, in clear violation of ministerial guidelines, statements in the House of Commons, official replies to letters from the CrISIS campaign and others, and criteria for evaluating Free School applications.[viii] CMI is nonetheless in the business of quietly infiltrating schools, and we note that the March 13 event is mysteriously absent from their calendar at

It is not legitimate, in the name of freedom of expression, to invite someone like Mr. Statham to present, to a captive audience of schoolchildren who will not know the rebuttals to his long-refuted arguments, a completely inaccurate account of reality. Even less is it appropriate to present him, as the programme for event does, as comparable to a genuine authority on science in relation to religion, the esteemed biologist and bioethicist Prof Bryant. On the contrary, to do so is a betrayal of your sacred education trust, and a breach of faith with parents who have sent their children to your school in the expectation that they would receive an education consistent with mainstream Church of England doctrine.

For this and the other reasons stated, we repeat our appeal to you to reconsider your invitation to Mr. Statham.


Prof Paul S Braterman, MA, DPhil., DSc. Oxon (for BCSE)
Laura Horner, BSc, PGCE (for CrISIS, and for self and other concerned parents)

[iii] Including such prominent Anglican scientists and educationalists as Bob White FRS, Simon  Conway Morris FRS, RJ Berry DSc, and Michael Reiss.
[iv] See e.g. Wiens, R.C. (2002). Radiometric Dating - A Christian Perspective: ; Evolution and the Fossil Record (Pojeta, and Springer), endorsed by numerous learned societies, ; “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution” ;; (includes teaching suggestions and discussion of the “objections” to evolution science); The Royal Society at; the US National Academy of Sciences at : and, and 67 separate national academies, from China to Peru, at
[v] Canon Theologian Keith Ward, Emeritus Regius Professor of Theology, Oxford; Canon Theologian Rev David Jennings, and Rev Michael Roberts, himself a geologist and historian as well as a Church of England priest.
[viii] see e.g. Ministerial letter (to Laura Horner, 2nd June 2011, official statements May 2011 and January 2012, statement in Free School application packet   

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