23 March 2006

Darwin and the Archbishop

Further to my post on 14 February about 'Darwin and the Bishops' I'm glad to say that the Archbishop of Canterbury has now entered the fray by making a pronouncement against teaching creationism in schools: It was reported in

the guardian

He says: "I think creationism is ... a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories ... if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories ... My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it."

Personally I think he should direct his guns more in this direction, against the anti-science evangelicals, rather than concentrating on the homosexual question, which can only lead to worse divisions in his church.

It seems that Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has also opposed teaching of creationism, as reported in

the telegraph

However, from what others have said who were present at the time, it seems his statement was not as clearcut as stated in this report, since he is still in favout of faith biased schools.

I would like to think that the Archbishop's statement is in part a result of my own efforts over the past few years to get such a statement from the Church of England. I wrote to the Archbishop, but my letter was directed to one of his theological advisors with whom I had an exchange of three letters. In the end he seemed reluctant to say anything on the grounds that it was a matter of scientific opinion. However, I pointed out that the Church was prepared to make statements on the far more controversial issue (among scientists) of global warming and environmental change.

I also wrote to many of the Bishops of the Church and got a variety of responses, but only expressing individual opinions, some positive but not committal of the Church's position.

Finally the 'Darwin Day' article I published in Leicester Mercury on 11th February this year was successful in getting a positive and public response from the Bishop of Leicester. And now the Archbishop has backed this up. I daresay the publicity surrounding the Dover USA trial on teaching 'Intelligent Design' in the schools may also have helped to bring the matter to a head.

I will be giving a presentation and conducting a discussion at Secular Hall, on Sunday 11th June 6:30 pm, on 'Countering Creationism'. This will take the form of a look at some of the publications issued by creationist organisations, and the way in which they misrepresent scientific findings in a manner that it is often difficult for non-specialists to refute, and providing some of the clearest ways of arguing against their claims.

14 March 2006

Creationism in the Curriculum?

Jacqui Smith, schools minister, indicated last week that pupils should be allowed to consider creationism and intelligent design in science lessons. Now the Times Educational Supplement reports that creationism is to be included in the GCSE Biology module:


See also the debate in their 'staffroom'.
It was even mentioned in The Sun:"Can you Adam and Eve it?"


There was more detail in the Times:


"OCR, one of the three main exam boards in England, said that the syllabus was intended to make students aware of scientific controversy." John Noel, OCR's science qualifications manager, told TES: "It is simply looking at one particular example of how scientific interpretation changes over time. The history of scientific ideas not only has a legitimate place in science lessons, it is a requirement of the new programme of study."
Here is a link to the curriculum PDFs from OCR:


Lamarck is mentioned, and the only mention of creationism is a single entry in the 'higher' part of the curriculum: "Explain that the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time (e.g. creationist interpretation)." Taken at face value, this could just be an example of an unscientific explanation being ousted by a scientific one. However, Noel as quoted seems to be suggesting that evolution has been ousted. It might on the whole be better to complain that the ambiguity of the syllabus exposes it to being hijacked by religous teachers, or used for propaganda.

The Guardian's take on the GCSE is here:


Experienced science teachers are worried.

There's a robust discussion started up on the Internet Infidels board:


in the Evolution/Creation section.
One of the administrators came up with a sample PDF exam paper:


The question "We cannot be sure that birds and reptiles had the same ancestor. Write down one reason why we cannot be sure." sounds dodgily creationist. If you go back far enough they most certainly did have the same ancestor.

And the BBC's caught up with it now:


The article on the BBC News website says:Teachers are asked to 'explain that the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time (e.g. creationist interpretation)'.

Many of the above links, and some o the comments, are from posts on the NSS Yahhoo group, secular newsline. The history of ideas about fossils and cration and evolution, before and after Darwin can be found on this site:


It is important for students of science to know the history of their subject. I'm sure I was taught about phlogiston in my Chemistry lessons, and caloric in Physics, and Ptolemaic astronomy in Geography, and I certainly read a lot of science history for my own interest.

Before Darwin the views of Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) were influential, see:





My own first comments on the issue were:

As regards the history of 'creationism', there is an article in the latest 'New Scientist' about Thomas Jefferson and the Lewis & Clark expediton (1804). He fully expected them to find Mastodons roamingthe wild west, but when they found none he came to accept the view of Georges Cuvier that such creatures had become extinct.

The first 'creationist' who argued that God put the fossils in the rocks to give the impression of evolution was Philip Gosse in his 'Omphalos' written after Darwin's 'Origin of Species'.

In that pdf exam paper from OCR the answer to question 7(c): "We cannot be sure that birds and reptiles had the same ancestor. Write down one reason why we cannot be sure." is given at the end as: "Fossil record not complete". No scientist normally would use the word "sure" would they? We cannot be sure of anything, in the sense of "absolutely certain". Also what does it mean for the fossil record to be "complete" - that every creature that ever lived was preserved as a fossil?

Other links:




Tez Burke's comment: And I suppose they'll be teaching alchemy, astrology, eugenics and phrenology as modules in science lessons next. Bloody disgraceful.

10 March 2006

Why's life hell at Guantanamo?

Brief background to this. I operate on a different sleep cycle than most people. 3am - 11am suits me fine. I also write for a US-based publication (nothing to do with secularism) so as part of everday departmental banter I made a joke that actually my late arrival and late departures fit better with the really interesting stuff I do (i.e. not my PhD). The response was that I should move over there, but that I'd get to immigration and end up in Guantanamo due to my left-wing views. My response was loosely lines 6 and 8. 6 was fine, but 8 got me a warning not to push it further. Red rag to a bull - I can openly slag off the Bible, but mention the Qu'ran and I'm going to offend someone (we have one Sudanese guy in the department who is Muslim, but, and I'm sad to admit this, I actually checked he wasn't about before opening my mouth).

Anyway, what should we do about this hypocrisy? Well, I hope this gives someone a giggle.

Why's life hell at Guantanamo?
All those handcuffs and chains might be good fun, you get free live sex shows, a great view of the sky at night, and if you can escape you're in Cuba, but:
You spend all your life surrounded by American grunts.
Orange has never really been in fashion, except if you're a certain Icelandic munchkin.
You only get one book to read.
It's in Arabic.
It's not very good.
And you have to wipe the sh*t off it before you can read it.


09 March 2006

Was the BNP behind the Jerry Springer Protests?

Correspondents on the NSS Yahoo Group 'secular newsline' have spotted that the placards displayed by the main group of demonstrators on the first night in Leicester were the same as those used by a new group calling themselves the 'Christian Council of Britain'. The following links seem to establish that this group is an offshoot of the British National Party.


"The first day of the Free Speech trial got underway in Leeds with a tough talking judge warning anti BNP protestors and a tremendous show of support for the two defendants, Nick Griffin and Mark Collett. Contrary to the lies put out by the BBC this afternoon, about 300 (double the number the BBC claimed) pro-free speech supporters from the BNP, Civil Liberty and the Christian Council of Britain held a peaceful and orderly demonstration outside Leeds Crown Court. A short prayer service was conducted by a representative of the CCoB, a newly formed association of committed Christians from all denominations and hymns were sung throughout the day."

"BNP creating new offshoots faster than the average knotweed. The Christian Council of Britain, replete with one or two hundred rabid members of the BNP (who also happen to be Christians), was set up by the BNP as a so-called balance to the Muslim Council of Britain. They claim to represent the Christians of Britain, which of course, they don't. They actually represent a racist though supposedly Christian offshoot of the BNP formed solely so that the party could almost-legitimately jump on the back of the anti-'Jerry Springer - The Opera' campaign. The real Christian group who actually are organising the campaign have stated clearly that the BNP is unwelcome."

The people with these placards were only there on the first night of the demonstrations. On subsequent nights the protesters were from local churches.