The naturalist joined three Nobel laureates, the atheist Richard Dawkins and other leading scientists in calling on the government to tackle the “threat” of creationism.
Gordon Brown’s government issued guidance to all schools that the subject should not be taught to pupils, but neither they nor the coalition government enshrined the recommendation in law.
In a statement on a new campaign website, the 30 scientists and campaign groups including the British Science Association demanded creationism and “intelligent design” be banned outright.
Prof Colin Blakemore, the neurobiologist, Sir Paul Nurse, the President of the Royal Society, and former Royal Society director of education Rev Prof Michael Reiss were among the signatories.
I couldn’t agree more. Creationism is a load of religious, pseudo-scientific crap, which has been completely discredited. It shouldn’t just have no place in schools, the state should indeed prevent it by law. America is being corrupted by the growing trend of fact denial; in school children in this country should only be taught to critically evaluate the world around them. There’s no other rational position to take.
I must confess to shedding a few tears here. I’m sure I’m not alone in marking much of my life alongside the ups and downs of the Space Shuttle. I was obsessed with it as a kid, distressed when Challenger blew up, and inspired by the lost crew of Columbia. Reagan was wrong about a whole lot of things, but he was right when he said that the future belonged to the brave. We live in weak, timid times, but this video shows me all too clearly what we as a species are capable of . It’s al all-too-poignant reminder that the atrocities committed yesterday in Norway aren’t what humankind is all about.
This blog doesn’t normally add stuff like this but that really has to change. Check out the rotation of the earth via the Very Large Telescopes in Chile:
Was it for this that I broke the habit of years and accepted the Guardian’s invitation to listen to Thought for the Day? Was it for this that the BBC, including the director general himself, no less, spent months negotiating with the Vatican? What on earth were they negotiating about,if all that emerged was the damp, faltering squib we have just strained our ears to hear?
We’ve already had what little apology we are going to get (none in most cases) for the raped children, the Aids-sufferers in Africa, the centuries spent attacking Jews, science, women and “heretics”, the indulgences and more modern (and tax-deductible) methods of fleecing the gullible to build the Vatican’s vast fortune. So, no surprise that these weren’t mentioned. But there’s something else for which the pope should go to confession, and it’s arguably the nastiest of all. I refer to the main doctrine of Christian theology itself, which was the centrepiece of what Ratzinger actually did say in his Thought for the Day.
“Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross.”
More shameful than the death itself is the Christian theory that it was necessary. It was necessary because all humans are born in sin. Every tiny baby, too young to have a deed or a thought, is riddled with sin: original sin. Here’s Thomas Aquinas:
“. . . the original sin of all men was in Adam indeed, as in its principal cause, according to the words of the Apostle(Romans 5:12): “In whom all have sinned“: whereas it is in the bodily semen, as in its instrumental cause, since it is by the active power of the semen that original sin together with human nature is transmitted to the child.”
Adam (who never existed) bequeathed his “sin” in his bodily semen (charming notion) to all of humanity. That sin, with which every newborn baby is hideously stained (another charming notion), was so terrible that it could be forgiven only through the blood sacrifice of a scapegoat. But no ordinary scapegoat would do. The sin of humanity was so great that the only adequate sacrificial victim was God himself.
That’s right. The creator of the universe, sublime inventor of mathematics, of relativistic space-time, of quarks and quanta, of life itself, Almighty God, who reads our every thought and hears our every prayer, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God couldn’t think of a better way to forgive us than to have himself tortured and executed. For heaven’s sake, if he wanted to forgive us, why didn’t he just forgive us? Who, after all, needed to be impressed by the blood and the agony? Nobody but himself.
Ratzinger has much to confess in his own conduct, as cardinal and pope. But he is also guilty of promoting one of the most repugnant ideas ever to occur to a human mind: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
It’s the last question that’s by far the best – at 11:30 – quite hilarious. Just watch Dawkins reading his hate mail out in an armchair, in front of an open fire. Was one of them from @JoeCienkowski?
As many of you know, Joe Cienkowski is quite possibly the stupidest of all the stupid creationists on the Internet. For reasons known only to him (and them) he seems desperate to prove that evolutionary biologist Prof Richard Dawkins actually supports their outrageous, baseless philosophy. Of course that’s nonsense. Let’s start a rebuttal by showing what Dawkins thinks of creationists:
Of creationists he says: ‘a mind like that…it seems to me is…well…a disgrace to the human species’. Hmm. That doesn’t sound very supportive of intelligent design or creationism. For that matter, have a watch of Jim (@movingtomontana) Gardner’s video (at about 2:47), showing Dawkins himself utterly and completely refuting any vague hint of belief in intelligent design in any way:
Given Dawkins’ own comments it would be pointless to attack Joe’s petulant footstamping line by line. Instead I’m going to offer you a smattering of viewpoints utterly breaking the preposterous notion of design. First we have Neil deGrasse Tyson, reflecting on the stupidity of ‘design’:
Then there’s Randolph Nesse (with Dawkins) showing yet again how the eye could not possibly have been ‘intelligently’ designed, and how evolution is instead at work:
And lastly for now, Dawkins himself explains how the illusion of deliberate design seems to happen (but doesn’t). It starts at about 4:15:
More creationist nonsense, easily dismissed by the…evidence! Your move, Joe (and creationism in general really).
Creationism has been running rampant in America for decades, with its literal interpretation of the Bible, insistence that the earth is no more than 6,000 years old and insistence that science is somehow on their side. Now it’s being exported to Scotland:
A new creationist group that preaches the “scientific” theory of intelligent design has set up in Glasgow with the stated aim of promoting its beliefs to schools and colleges.
The Centre for Intelligent Design, headed by a Northern Irish professor of genetics, a vice-president of the Royal College of Physicians and a former school inspector, has already prepared the ground for a clash with authorities.
The group’s director, Dr Alastair Noble, told the Sunday Herald it was “inevitable” the debate would make its way into schools – even though the Scottish Government says teachers should not regard intelligent design as science.
“We are definitely not targeting schools, but that doesn’t mean to say we may not produce resources that go to schools,” Dr Noble said, adding that he had already been asked to speak in Scottish schools, and agreed to do so.
The C4ID, as it calls itself online, insists its views are purely scientific, but critics have pointed to the leaders’ fundamentalist Christian backgrounds and the leaps of faith inherent in their logic.
Now Noble is basically implying that he intends to target schools, and considering creationism and ‘intelligent’ design represent wilful renunciations of reason and an evidence based approach, I think the philosophy behind his centre needs to be exposed. So…
The terms used in design theory are not defined. “Design”, in design theory, has nothing to do with “design” as it is normally understood. Design is defined in terms of an agent purposely arranging something, but such a concept appears nowhere in the process of distinguishing design in the sense of “intelligent design.” Dembski defined design in terms of what it is not (known regularity and chance), making intelligent design an argument from incredulity; he never said what design is.
A solution to a problem must address the parameters of the problem, or it is just irrelevant hand waving. Any theory about design must somehow address the agent and purpose, or it is not really about design. No intelligent design theorist has ever included agent or purpose in any attempt at a scientific theory of design, and some explicitly say they cannot be included (Dembski 2002, 313). Thus, even if intelligent design theory were able to prove design, it would mean practically nothing; it would certainly say nothing whatsoever about design in the usual sense.
‘Critics’ have mountains of 100% conclusive evidence on their side to disprove creationism & ‘intelligent’ design in a heartbeat. No more than 6,000 years old? Erm radiometric dating proves that’s bogus. Adam and Eve were real? Erm we have an entire fossil record that proves that bogus and demonstrates evolution beyond any doubt whatsoever. Humanity was designed by an intelligent hand? We know that’s a complete load of garbage too:
Richard Dawkins, never a man inclined to say nice things about creationism or ‘intelligent’ design, doesn’t just break creationism apart with hard science, he does so by framing the way in which creationists approach the very idea of evidence (also in the cartoon below):
Its [president, Professor Norman Nevin OBE – a geneticist at Queen’s University in Belfast – told a meeting in the city earlier this year he believed Adam was “a real historical person”. He also said: “Genesis chapter 1-11, which indeed many Darwinists and evolutionists say is myth or legend, I believe is historical, and it is cited 107 times in the New Testament, and Jesus refers himself to the early chapters of Genesis at least 25 times.” In these books of the Bible, the universe is created in six days, God makes Eve out of Adam’s rib, and Noah saves the Earth by building an ark.
Folks this is a geneticist saying God makes a woman out of a man's rib. Cloning? In Bronze Age times? By a supernatural 'creator' for whose existence there has never been one iota's evidence? It's utterly appalling, but look at his MO:
Professor Norman Nevin, [who was part of our panel on last week's Sunday Sequence,] is one of twelve academics to have written to the Prime Minister and Education Secretary in support of Truth in Science’s controversial schools initiative. Truth in Science believe that children and youth people should be exposed to alternatives to Darwinism and evolutionary theory, and, particularly, to Intelligent Design Theory, and have sent teaching packs to every school in the country.
Take a look at Nevin’s hinted ‘evidence’ – circular logic, insisting that one event referred to in the Bible did happen because it was prophesied elsewhere in the same book. It’s kind of telling that he says he’s not ‘targeting’ schools, yet his history has been to target schools. But he’s not the only scientist coming out with this:
Dr Alastair Noble is a Glasgow University graduate who became a teacher and later HM inspector of schools. He is currently education officer for CARE, a Christian charity which campaigns for more faith teaching in schools.
Dr David Galloway, C4ID’s vice- president, is also vice-president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a member of the Lennox Evangelical Church in Dumbarton.
C4ID has now set up a base in Glasgow and runs a website. The group is financially based in Guernsey, and apparently funded solely by backers in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.
Dr Noble denied the theory of intelligent design – that a universal engineer, or god, created the initial spark of life then used physical laws and natural selection to develop it – was religious.
How can a front for creationism not be religious? Preposterous nonsense – these people are the vanguard of those who try to recast science to prove anything they like, when that’s not what science (in this reality at least) does. Talk Origins goes further in proving creationists’ religious agenda, by letting the words of ‘intelligent’ design’s founders and leaders speak for themselves:
The ID movement is motivated by and inseparable from a narrow religious viewpoint. In the words of its founders and leaders:
There’s a difference of opinion about how important this debate [advocating intelligent design] is. What I always say is that it’s not just scientific theory. The question is best understood as: Is God real or imaginary? (Phillip Johnson, “The Search for Intelligent Design in the Universe”,
“We are taking an intuition most people have [the belief in God] and making it a scientific and academic enterprise. We are removing the most important cultural roadblock to accepting the role of God as creator. (Phillip Johnson, “Enlisting Science to Find the Fingerprints of a Creator”,
Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools (P. Johnson 2003).
If Noble is right and ID/creationism does make it into schools then we have a problem. It would be teaching superstition as science, legitimising the misrepresentation of all sorts of fields such as geology and biology and championing ignorance over knowledge. And it’s another example of creationists using ‘established’ scientists to legitimise their fundamentalist nonsense.
“I think people are afraid of this debate because they sense it’s religion from the back door. They see it as an invasion of science with religion, but it most certainly is not that,” he said.
However, critics dismissed intelligent design as “a front for creationism”.
Paul Braterman, an emeritus professor of chemistry, now at Glasgow University, and a founder of the British Centre for Science Education, a campaign to keep religion out of science classes, said intelligent design was simply using God to plug the gaps that science has yet to answer.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, called on the Government to “keep a close eye on this organisation to ensure it doesn’t manage to wheedle its way into schools”.
James Gray, of the British Humanist Association, said the C4ID had a right to say what it liked, but guidelines were needed to “ensure this pseudoscience never finds its way into science classes”.
They should indeed be allowed to say what they like. But observe the resulting problem of what happens when literalist nonsense makes it into schools:
[Teacher] Erfana Bora [disagrees]. In her view, after learning both science and religion “Pupils then do, literally, make their own minds up as to what they believe”. She says pupils in her science class ask her all kinds of questions, such as “Do humans really share a common ancestor with apes?”. But, interestingly, she doesn’t say how she answers such questions. Does she tell them that, yes, humans almost certainly share a common ancestor with apes, or does she say that while scientists argue that this is so, the Qur’an says that it is not? This is important, because if it’s the latter then it’s a classic case of “teach the controversy”, even where there isn’t one. The implication that education is about allowing children to make their own minds up may sound honourable, but it is misleading.
Sure it is, and it’s an extension of the literalist crap littering the American public sphere too. FOX News for example will transmit the most outrageous lies under the auspices of ‘being fair and balanced’, yet what they do is act in a ‘fair and balanced’ way with arguments with no merit (often with no truth). As I’ve said on this blog many times, just because there are two sides to an argument, it doesn’t make them of equal validity. The same is very much true with Biblical literalism – teaching the controversy legitimises superstitious nonsense by equating it with scientific fact.
In 2007 the BHA successfully lobbied the UK Government to publish guidance on how teachers should deal with creationism south of the Border, but no such policy exists in Scotland.
Ann Ballinger, of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, urged ministers here to clarify the situation, while the EIS union said authorities should ensure teachers knew their position regarding intelligent design in the classroom.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said ministers would be against any moves to teach intelligent design in science classes, stating “we do not recognise the teaching of intelligent design in a scientific context”.
However, teaching unions and councils said they were aware of no formal guidance on the subject.
It should indeed be prevented, but considering it’s already de-facto taking place in schools which are quite happily afforded the freedom to do so, I don’t exactly know how. It seems unlikely that a creationist centre will find itself hindered in any way when successive governments are so keen to promote the idea of faith schools. We’re on a slippery slope here, kids. Faith is being given weight in society disproportionate to its weight. By all means we should be concerned by C4ID, but we should see it in context too.
Alom Shaha thinks we should:
I’m not suggesting that atheists don’t talk about religion or that they don’t continue to argue with believers. I think there are all sorts of things that would be better if religion were not such a powerful force in so many people’s lives. I’m often asked “why do you care what other people believe?” My answer is that I care because I care about the things that make our world tick. I care because our beliefs are defining qualities that play a huge part in our relationships with other people and the world at large. I care because what people believe determines how people act.
So I’ll carry on talking about my beliefs and challenging people about theirs and I’ll look forward to the continued work of Dawkins and others like him. However, I would encourage “campaigning” atheists and skeptics to think about the tone they use to deliver their messages. It should be obvious that how we say things is often as important, if not more so, than what we say.
Well yes that’s true of course, but it’s important to keep a divide between the two issues in play when arguing with believers and the irrational. I may privately think that believing in God is a little stupid, but I’m a little stupid too in a whole mess of ways peculiar to me – as long as our stupidities and inconsistencies don’t harm anyone else, who cares? And for that matter facts aren’t the only important things in all spheres – it doesn’t fundamentally matter who believes in homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, reiki or any other ‘new age’ practice for example. If voodoo medicine makes people feel better (but not make them better) that’s their affair, surely? On the whole I tend to leave private belief alone.
But I don’t think that’s the defining issue with Dawkins and ‘campaigning’/'militant’/'new’ atheists (why is noone noticing that the ‘new’ atheism is in direct response to the increasing expansion of unquestioning, militant political belief, infecting civil society throughout most of the world this century?). When Christianists and others label me ‘perverse’ or ‘wrong’ though merely for being gay I sure as hell won’t watch my tone, and why should I? The difficult centre of the argument is where these issues touch everyone in civil society. It may be frustrating that so many people ‘don’t get it’, but I’ve come to realise Enlightenment values in society as a whole have to be continually justified. And using the right tone to argue against faith schools, teaching creationism on a par with evolution in schools, or against NHS funding of homeopathy is indeed vital if we want to continue to prevail.
I love Doonesbury so much:
Yesterday I stumbled on an hilarious argument against Dawkins in the Guardian:
He just can’t separate science from the debate he has got into with religious people. “Debate” is too kind a word. In a debate you are trying to convince your opponents, but the new atheists have closed off the grey area in which, for a long time in the west, science and religion co-existed.
Actually he’s separated it completely, where the creationists and Muslim fundamentalists in contrast insist science is on their side. And Dawkins’ argument (although he occasionally overreaches into arguing against religion itself) is against the abuses inflicted by religion on reason and critical thought. There are plenty of believers who accept that science and religion can co-exist, whom I don’t recall Dawkins railing against. His issue is with the theists who have closed this grey area off, largely through teaching lies as facts in faith schools, and arguing in a pseudo-scientific way against science like evolution, which they find inconvenient to their literalist beliefs.
Nor does he offer what is surely needed – a blow-by-blow introduction to evolution that starts calmly from the visible evidence all around us. In a telling aside, he is dismissive about the fossil Ida, which he cannot resist telling his readers was massively overhyped. Missing link? You’d have to be an idiot to think that, he grumps … I am not defending the publicity for this fossil, but it typifies the self-regard of the public atheist that when an accessible, immediate, exciting piece of visual evidence for The Descent of Man enters the mainstream, his reaction is to sneer. He doesn’t actually want to persuade, he just wants to be the cleverest kid in the class. Which Darwin never was.
He has explained evolution until he’s blue in the face. I can present clip after clip from show after show, and YouTube segment after segment set up specifically to evidence evolution, but time and again he’s lambasted for being ‘dogmatic’ or ‘militant’ anyway. And I’m not remotely sure what the point is that Jonathan Jones is trying to make about the fossil Ida. Is he suggesting that Ida disproves evolution as it’s understood? Does Dawkins’ attitude towards it invalidate the arguments he’s trying to counter? How can dismissing it (if that’s what he did) invalidate an acceptance of the primacy of critical thought and science in understanding the world and the universe around us? Given the militancy and sheer stupidity of the religious fundamental attack on science, how kind is he supposed to be? If Jones is opposed to Dawkins on religious grounds, why not say so honestly?
George Clooney had an excellent line in ‘Good Night and Good Luck’, which has stuck with me ever since: just because there are two sides of an argument, doesn’t make them equal or equally logical. And Dawkins clearly accepts that in this area you cannot reason with those who reject reason – they must be confronted because their position is mendacious, damaging and wrong. Jones however appears to be from the liberal school which morally relativises every argument, and I couldn’t disagree with his position more strongly.
Professor Stephen Hawking has dismissed entirely the notion that a God had any hand whatsoever in the creation of the universe:
In the new work, The Grand Design, Professor Stephen Hawking argues that the Big Bang, rather than occurring following the intervention of a divine being, was inevitable due to the law of gravity.
In his 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, Hawking had seemed to accept the role of God in the creation of the universe. But in the new text, co-written with American physicist Leonard Mlodinow, he said new theories showed a creator is “not necessary”.
The Grand Design, an extract of which appears in the Times today, sets out to contest Sir Isaac Newton’s belief that the universe must have been designed by God as it could not have been created out of chaos.
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,” he writes. “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.
“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
Poor poor creationists. They spend all their time bitching, moaning and whinging about the impossibility of the universe creating itself without a sentient, guiding hand (whilst ignoring where that came from), but Prof Hawking has undermined them quite comprehensively. There’s just no need for a God to explain anything in existence at all. I wonder how many imaginative ways the creationist lobby can a) dismiss his argument without addressing it b) invoke a theist, straw man argument to try to shift the burden of proof away from them yet again and c) lie about science until they’re blue in the face in the hope most people will believe them and not Hawking.
Dawkins’ documentary last night was damned entertaining, and occasionally painfully revealing. And the science teacher at the Islamic faith school who so totally dropped herself in it has responded:
Science is essentially mankind’s best effort at understanding the workings of the known universe, given our limited resources and intelligence. Learning about science is fun, fantastic and thought-provoking, especially discussions arising around ethical grey areas. However, it is important that children are made aware of the limitations of scientific endeavour lest they be corralled into a realm wherein nothing is worth knowing unless it has been determined by empirical scientific discovery.
If they were encouraged towards that worldview alone, I believe they would be receiving an education devoid of further enrichment from a faith-based narrative. I’m not in the business of wanting young people bereft of the entire canon of human belief systems. That religions have stood the test of time is testament to the human need for something other than that which we can prove or disprove.
As a teacher, I’d be doing my pupils a grave disservice if I insisted that the answers that science can give us should be the limit of our understanding of the world. Kids are bright and don’t need liberating from religion, especially if the alternative is limited to giving credence to atheistic secularism alone. Rather, equip them with all the alternatives and let them work it out for themselves.
I’m aghast at this. She’s debating her confrontation with Dawkins about evolution, which she as a science teacher disputed. I’ll accept (to a point) that history has shown at the very least a predilection for something other than what we can prove or disprove, but that has almost entirely been due to historical ignorance – we haven’t been able to figure out the answers about who we are and how we came to be. Now we can, and for her to say that metaphysics should or could in any way answer how humanity, the earth or the universe came to be is objectively wrong. By all means discuss the issues and run through the debates in a religious education class, but science alone does have the answers to these questions – to suggest there are religious/metaphysical/transcendental alternatives is in small or large measure an attempt to indoctrinate children (as Dawkins says) into believing ‘God’ has answers science doesn’t, thereby contributing to robbing them of the freedom to engage with the world critically.
I personally agree with Dawkins that children do need liberating from religion, at least from their parents’. But my bottom line from Erfana Bora’s argument is this: she is doing her pupils a horrible disservice by suggesting as a science teacher that science doesn’t provide all the answers to our understanding of the world – it does. If she disagrees with the theory of evolution, and suggests for a heartbeat that a religious text has any role in any way in explaining how life on earth has come to be, she shouldn’t be teaching science in a school funded by the British taxpayer. Very simple.