This bit of recent self-puffery from the British Humanist Assocaition both pleased and annoyed me.
I was pleased that Creationism can no longer be taught as science in schools and that evolution will be taught in primary schools.
But I was annoyed that this has been left to the Humanists and that none of the churches has done anything about it. Over that last thirty years the media has reported about Creationism in schools and churches, starting with D. C. C. Watson in 1976. The Arkansas trial was well-reported at the end of 1981 both in the secular and religious press. Ever since then it has cropped up at regular intervals. Christian bookshops were full of creationist books and American speakers like Henry Morris, Gary Parker and Duane Gish made lecture tours of Britain, only to be replaced by Ken Ham and John Mackay in the 90s. Slowly Creationism grew and even in 1982 David Sheppard, the then Bishop of Liverpool, was concerned, but said little about the growing numbers of his clergy who were becoming creationist. At the end of 1982 I wrote a critique of creationism for Liverpool diocese. Many appreciated it, but I receieved some letters of complaint from clergy. That silence has been repeated by leaders of all churches for over thirty years though some have made opposing noises.
And so I shall consider four creationist events in English schools this century.
A major outcry was when Ken Ham led a meeting at Emmanuel College , Gateshead in early 2002. Although AIG had only hired the school hall rather than taking any lessons, the creationism taught in the school came to light. Richard Dawkins and others weent to town but the churches were largely silent and the only church leader who was critical was Bishop Richard Harries of Oxford. Where were the Bishops of Durham, Newcastle and York?
There was little comment from the church press but I got a stiff rebuke in the Church Times from the Revd David Holloway, a governor of the school, who told me to read books by William Dembski. In my reply I also added that I had introduced Dembski in a conference at Muilwaukee in 2000! Hardly anyone in the churches took much notice, but this was the critical point for humanists and atheists, which realised what was happening.
Some years later Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, referred to creationism, in his usual oblique and intellectual manner, as a “category mistake”. Undoubetdly to an Oxbridge or Ivy League intellectual this would be utterly crushing, but to most people, unaccustomed to intellectual understatement, it is innocuous and most undevestating. Yes, Creationism is a category mistake, but he should have expressed in everyday language so everybody could understand. He should have said,
“Creationism is religious and scientific crap, and anyone teaching or preaching it should be sacked”
Now that would have made headlines, rather than three lines on page 11 of The Times, and unmentioned in the Daily Mail. Or he should have at least said,
“Creationism is a gross misunderstanding of the Bible and is dishonest in its treatment of science, compleltely unscientific and thus has no place in the churches or any place of education.”
All would have understood but there would have been bleating from all the Creationist clergy in England. And at least one bishop. Why didn’t Rowan say this?
And, lastly, a few years ago in 2011 a Creationist was invited to speak to a church secondary school in Exeter. Phillip Bell from Creation Ministries International (CMI) and best known for mediaeval dinosaurs, http://creation.com/bishop-bells-brass-behemoths was billed as a scientist took speak on science. One parent, a Christian and a geologist complained about the event, initally to no avail.
The BCSE (British Centre for Science Education) became involved. http://bcseweb.blogspot.co.uk/p/creationism-in-schools-isnt-science.html Finally objections were made by an eclectic group including various humanists, atheists and three clergy, but no bishops. CMI were none to pleased and a response on their website http://creation.com/humanist-crisis-campaign ignored the fact that clergy (presumably Christian) were involved and saw it is as purely humanist. Phillip Bell tried again the next year, but pressure from BCSE warded him off!
And then there is the Zoo in Bristol which Prof Alice Roberts loves!
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/08/wont-go-back-to-creationist-zoo-bristol This has been a long saga over several years. It attracts school visits and at the end of 2013 Alice Roberts focussed her criticisms on that. Not that the controversy was new as it went bsck to 2009 when the BHA critised it. This was reported in the Church Times in September 2009 and I wrote to the paper complaining about it, beginning “Perhaps the British Humanist Association (BHA) is justified in criticising the Noah’s Ark Zoo near Bristol, and church groups should have been more forthright in their criticism”, knowing the owner, Anthony Bush was a Lay Reader (i.e lay preacher) in the Church of England. I focussed on the section on Earth History on their website http://www.noahsarkzoofarm.co.uk/pages/about-us/earth-history/earth-history.php, which totally rejects the normal geological timescale for a much shorter one of thousands of years. It should be screamingly obvious to anyone with the slightest knowledge that the earth is billions of years old. Again there was no response from the churches or the Bishop of Bristol, who could simply have removed Anthony Bush’s license to preach. (At the time I jokingly convinced myself that the bishop brought it up in a staff meeting and was told of my dodgy and heretical theology by a senior cleric, under whom I served as curate. I remember once in a meeting with him asking him why he had a copy of Henry Morris’s The Genesis Record a supposed commentary of Genesis expounding a six day creation and that all strata were deposited in the flood. He was not pleased when I dismissed Morris’s book as rubbish.)
And so complaints about Noah’s Ark Zoo were left to the BHA; https://humanism.org.uk/2014/02/04/alice-roberts-bha-complain-michael-gove-noahs-ark-zoo-farms-quality-badge-breaching-creationism-policy/
So here are four occasions this century when the Church of England has failed to take on Creationism and let it continue on its wayward path. And so today in the Church of England a good 5% of clergy are Creationist, including one (retired) bishop, whereas fifty years ago there were virtually zero Creationists and it was never mentioned. I have given four instances in recent years when strong leadership from the Bishops could have slowed down the growth, but the rot had already set in as there were various occasions before when a short sharp word could have stopped the cancerous growth.
If Bishops and church leaders want to be an effective force in the 21st century, they should ensure that the dishonest rubbish that is Creationism is not preached and taught in their churches, and ensure that it is not taught in any schools.