26 August 2006


Creationism and Evolution in Leicester again

Ken Ham of "Answers in Genesis" is in Leicester again on 1st September, at the Students Union building on Leicester University campus. While the creationists should be allowed free speech, they could easily hire a church hall or leisure centre (as they did last year). By allowing such an anti-science event on the University site it seems to me the LUSU is undermining the University's educational and scientific reputation. At the same time it allows the creationists and IDers to use the University's name to add weight to their claims to be scientific.

Some members of Leicester Secular Society, I should add, don't agree with me on this, but say we are committed to freedom of religious worship and to free speech, so long as we get to put the other side of the story. And we are getting to put the other side in a constructive way, as in conjunction with Leicester University, we will be welcoming the geneticist Professor Steve Jones, on 7th November. The title of his talk will be the same as that he presented to the Royal Society earlier this year: Why Creationism is Wrong and Evolution is Right.

The need for continued vigilance against the encroachment of creationist ignorance is emphasised by an Opinionpanel Research survey conducted in July this year which found that more than 30% of UK university students believe in creationism or intelligent design. This is the starting point of an article by A.C.Grayling in the Guardian: Reason Lost, which has atracted extensive comments.

I quote a comment (though I know some of our members will also disgree with this) by Laurence Boyce: "... I think that the problem lies firmly with 'faith,' and with our beloved religious leaders who habitually pollute our rational discourse with their unjustifiable demand that we should 'respect' their ridiculous, contradictory, and unfalsifiable belief systems. The creationists are right! The entire basis of Christian theology - the fall and the redemption - simply gets blown away by Darwinism. Viewed in this light, nice mainstream 'moderate' religion is merely the blood supply feeding the cancer of so-called religious extremism.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world creationists continue their little encroachments on the road to a new dark age:

The NY Times reports that evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant.

Christians in Kenya are pressurising the country’s national museum to hide their world famous collection of hominid bones that provide evidence of human evolution. Bishop Adoyo said all Kenya’s churches would join the campaign to force the museum to change its focus when it re-opens after refurbishment next year.

Finally, the Pope has retired his official astronomer, Father George Coyne, after a series of public clashes with other cardinals over the theory of evolution. The NSS points out that this comes only weeks before the Vatican hosts a seminar to examine the impact of Darwin’s theory on the Church’s teaching of Creation.

On the positive side: It is reported that geneticists have identified the brain genes that gave us chumps a head start on the chimps.

Of course some creationist lobby should be allowed to ask if they can deliver a talk at a university. They have freedom of speech.

But you're quite right -- the university also has freedom, and it could, and indeed should, have freely rejected any such request. Because it has the freedom not to be complicit.
Our argument is with the Student Union rather than the University, since it is the ULSU that hires out the SU building, and they are independent of, and sometimes in conflict with, the University authorities.

I emailed the Union and got a reply which says, in short:

"... as a Students' Union we are happy to encourage free speech within the law. The booking will not contravene this, and it is clear policy that the Students' Union does not associate itself with the views held and expressed in privately booked conferences in the building."

and: "We do not anticipate this will have any impact on the reputation of the Universtiy in the field of education or science."

In short, complacency, if not complicity.
I should have added that the argument with the Student Union administrators is just a side issue. Our primary aim should be to counter the spreading of misinformation and antipathy to science by Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis.
I published a report of our picket of the Ken Ham meeting on the Secularists (UK) forum.

Ken Ham himself came out and spoke with me for a few minutes. Subsequently he published his own version of our talk on his site. A link is included in the above report.

I think the picket was worth holding. If only to help show the creationists that their are people who laugh at their stupid ideas.

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