Yes, but no!
YES! that will annoy some. Surely I should just shriek “NO”! We need more than a knee-jerk reaction.
In context, Creationism cannot be taught in England and Wales has yet to formulate its position, as new teaching guidelines do not mention creationism and could open the floodgates. As a result the British humanist Association have jumped and have got 50 leading scientists to sign , including at least three Christians – Prof Tom McLeish, Rev Prof Michael Reiss and Simon Barrow. I signed it but don’t think I’ll join the BHA.
Here’s the substance of the letter
The letter says:
‘As scientists and educators we believe that good science teaching is vital to the education and development of all children, wherever they live in the UK. We note the Welsh Government is currently consulting on a new national curriculum that will drastically overhaul education in Wales, including science education. The new Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE) doesn’t explicitly prohibit presenting creationism and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, and evolution is only mentioned once (and only at secondary level at that).
‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. It is a fundamental concept that describes and explains the development of the diversity of life on the planet. Pupils should be introduced to it early – certainly at primary level – as it underpins so much else. What’s more, without an explicit ban on teaching creationism, intelligent design, and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, such teaching may begin to creep into the school curriculum, when it is vital children in Wales are not exposed to pseudoscientific doctrines masquerading as science.
‘State schools in England, including primary schools, are already required to teach evolution ‘as a comprehensive, coherent, and extensively evidenced theory’, and ‘must not allow any view or theory to be taught as evidence-based if it is contrary to scientific or historical evidence or explanations’. We urge the Welsh Government to introduce the same requirements in Wales.’
So often evolution is called a belief and thus people may say “I believe in evolution”. That is unhelpful as evolution is a scientific theory it should not be dependent on belief but evidence. In that, it is contrasted to creationism which is a belief based on a particular reading of the Bible. I, for one, do not believe in evolution but accept the arguments and evidence for it.
I consider that this petition is too focused on biological evolution and ignores cosmological and geological evolution. In school, both at primary and secondary level, the concept of Deep Time must be taught. Yes, the universe IS 13.4 billion years old, the earth 4.64 billion and the first life was between 4 and 3.5 billion and so on. The succession of life (call that evolution if you will) needs some treatment even at primary level.
I have taken part in teaching rocks and volcanoes to Years 3 and 4 (ages 7 and 8). Having climbed Mt St Helens I show slides of that and the 1980 eruption and then ask “Where is the nearest volcano?”
That stumps them and then I tell them “in the Lake District, 450 million years ago.” Wow! Of course, they will soon forget the 450 million and if asked will just say “millions”, which is fine. Dinosaurs are a must and again their great age can be stressed. This gives an open door for evolution.
However my observation in schools (mostly Anglican primary) is that some teachers are unsure about it and fearful of either what they think the church believes or an awareness of fundamentalist parents. With many evangelical churches teaching creationism this can inhibit schools in their teaching.
Above all, YEC and Intelligent Design need to be excluded from the science curriculum.
What is creationism?
It may seem superfluous asking this question as most think they know what creationism is. Many, including those in churches, assume it is simply traditional Christianity.
Creationism, or more accurately Young Earth Creationism (YEC) holds that the bible, especially Genesis must be taken literally and that God created in 6 24-hour days. They further claim that before the Fall – when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit – there was no death, suffering or disease including among animals and that most of the strata were laid down during Noah’s Flood. I could deal with at great depth but this gives the outline.
On certain things there are variety of understandings but all coalesce on the above.
At times ideas get a bit far-fetched as with the suggestion of fire-breathing dinosaurs, described in this blog.
Here is a recent tweet by a creationist. That shows the problem.
More than likely the dinosaurs died out after the flood due to large dietary requirements. After the centuries after that they were hunted to extinction by mankind due to their terror of dragons.
I would have thought most would baulk at that, but these views are held in many churches, especially independent evangelical ones. That includes some Anglicans. i have had some heated discussions with Anglican clergy on YEC.
This, briefly, is what they affirm but they also argue that scientists have got so much wrong, especially geologists, who have wrongly argued for an earth being millions or billions of years old for 300 years. When you dig into their writings you find they take an odd position on evolution and thus claim that creatures evolved rapidly after the Flood, so that all cats from moggies to lions evolved in a few hundred years after landing at Ararat from the Cat-kind Noah took to sea!
I presume all intelligent people will find that nonsense, but that IS what creationism (YEC) is. It is what I’ve read and heard from YECs for half a century.
My introduction to YEC was thrust upon in the Swiss Alps. After three years as an exploration geologist in Africa I felt called to the Anglican ministry and in preparation for that went out to study for a month in 1971 under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri above the Rhone Valley. On arrival Schaeffer’s son-in-law, Udo Middelmann suggested I should read a host of YEC books. I was reluctant but did so. At first I was baffled and began to read The Genesis Flood.
At first I felt they were incontrovertible, but then I started to discover the sheer dishonesty of the arguments and their systematic misquotations. The book was cleverly argued and those without geological knowledge would probably not identify the flaws. After that, I often muttered “bloody liars” under my breath as I read The Genesis Flood and other YEC books. However few in Britain were concerned about YEC in the 70s as it only came to the fore in 1981.
The problem of dealing with YEC is that one needs skills in all branches of science and my skills become limited beyond geology. Even so, YECs continually present new killer arguments which appear plausible and not amenable to quick refutation. I and many others have done slow hatchet jobs on these arguments and without fail they always turn out to be based on bad science and misrepresentation (aka lying). Thus in the early 80s a certain Woodmorappe (alibi!) wrote an article on how so many radiometric dates were wrong and gave a list of 700 dodgy dates. Many came from the 1964 Geological Society of London tome on The Geological Time scale of which I had a copy. So laboriously I checked these out and there were about a hundred. In every case the literature was misquoted. I could not reconcile that with the Ninth Commandment.
There are myriad examples of this , or at a popular level by Prof A Mcintosh, formerly of Leeds. I cannot see how a D Sc in anything could get things so wrong. McIntosh gives talks in various places and works alongside Ken Ham. He wrote a popular book Genesis for Today which has an appendix on why geology is wrong. The errors are horendous.
It is difficult not to get angry about this type of thing.
Yet YEC persists.
As well as that a fair number of Christians are fearful that this is the orthodox and traditional view of the churches and are initially bemused when I say it is not. I have found this for over 40 years in my ministry and consider it is because clergy have failed in their teaching and left the subject to one side. (My own policy has been to deal with creation and science , when the lectionary suggests a reading on creation, slip it out at Harvest as an aside, rather than hammer away. Most know of my being a geologist and often of my interest in Darwin.)
No, YEC is not the traditional view of the churches. Yes, Christians in the past did believe the earth was thousands. not billions, of years old, but that was before geologists had discovered the earth was ancient. Thus Archbishop Ussher who in 1656 argued for creation in 4004BC, was reflecting the best scholarship available and not rejecting and rubbishing science. It was 20 to 30 years after that some began to realise the vast age of the earth.
The historical relation of Christianity and science would require volumes, but suffice it to say that many early geologists were devout Christians. a good number were Anglican clergy, like Sedgwick, who taught Darwin geology, Henslow, Buckland and Coneybeare. Sedgwick was an inspiration, not only as a geologist, but for the way he tackled wrong ideas, as I show in this chapter/blog. (It was fun writing it!)
As for evolution, that was accepted in most churches within 20 years of the publication of The Origin of species (see https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/evolution-and-religion-in-britain-from-1859-to-2013/ for the last 150 years)
but is Creationism being taught?
The answer many in education will give is that it is not. That is what some educationalists have said to me – including within the church. However over the decades a few instances have come to light. I, and others, are sure there are many more.
Some Bristol schools have taken pupils to this creationist zoo.
I lift this from another blog of mine. I just love the cart pulled by a dinosaur!!
The most public face of creationism has been in education, mirroring the American experience. This became apparent in 2002 after the Emmanuel Gateshead affair. It is difficult to estimate how much creationism is taught in British schools, but apart from independent (creationist) Christian and Islamic faith schools, creationism is taught as science in some state schools. It remains largely hidden because one cannot go round schools and ask the question outright and also a teacher teaching creationism would be wary of disclosing the fact.
First, the fifty independent faith schools do teach creationism as science for religious reasons. They often use American creationist material like Accelerated Christian Education. Secondly, several state secondary schools effectively teach creationism but claim to follow the National Curriculum. The first state school to teach YEC was probably Emmanuel College, Gateshead, a Christian foundation formed in 1992. In April 2002 Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (the leading creationist organisation) led a meeting at the school. As it was a case of hiring out the school hall it was not relevant, but it took on a media-life of its own. However it became clear that creationism was taught as science. Richard Dawkins, the Bishop of Oxford and others called for a review but a government inspection supported the school. Some indications had appeared on the Christian Institute website. The head McQuoid made his support of YEC clear and in 2000 The Christian Institute had hosted a lecture series on Christian education, mostly by teachers at Emmanuel Gateshead. Stephen Layfield, head of science lectured on “The Teaching of Science; A Biblical Perspective”. He suggested that the “Principal evidence [for the Flood] is found in the fossil-laden sedimentary rocks, the extensive reserves of hydrocarbon fuels (coal, oil and gas)…”. This article can be considered a manifesto for creationist teaching of science by arguing that science teachers should question evolution or geological time at every opportunity, and teaching an alternative Creationist opinion. Thirdly, there are examples of creationist teaching within the state system, in a covert way. Numbers of teachers are creationists but short of surveillance one cannot find out what they teach. To teach creationism would be contrary to both government guidelines.
The pressure to teach creationism comes from many different groups, mostly from independent churches, which are involved in groups like Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International. However much writing on creationism appears in evangelical magazines, like, Evangelical Times, Evangelicals Today and in Evangelicals Now. The sheer weight of articles over many years has convinced many evangelicals that evolution is bad science and, at the very least, creationism or design should be taught as an alternative.
In September 2006 the group Truthinscience began a public campaign to encourage ‘the critical examination of Darwinism in schools’ and the teaching of “design” schools. They claimed:
We believe that a critical examination of Darwinism and the controversy that surrounds it will enable students to fulfill some of these objectives. …We consider that it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a more critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons. They should be exposed to the fact that there is a modern controversy over Darwin’s theory of evolution and the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and that this has considerable social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications. Truth in Science promotes the critical examination of Darwinism in schools, as an important component of science education.
Figure 7 Screenshot of the homepage of Truth in Science http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/tis2/index.php/home.html The DVD Set in Stone presents arguments fro a young earth and the website gives the impression of being “good” science
Their website scarcely touched on a young earth or Noah’s Flood but the board of advisors were Young Earth Creationists including Prof McIntosh of Leeds and an Anglican vicar. They claimed to be presenting Intelligent Design as an alternative to “Darwinism”. Design is used by creationists today as it is less threatening to the general public than creationism. They declined to affirm their belief that dinosaurs were on the Ark. One cannot determine how successful truthinscience has been in Britain. However, since September 2006 there have been many responses to the teaching of creationism. The concerns of creationists may be seen in Paul Taylor’s book entitled Truth, Lies and Science Education, written for the general reader. Taylor claims much science taught in schools is wrong and based on atheistic assumptions. The book is scientifically inaccurate and asserts much science teaching is actually scientism and gives radiometric age-dating as an example. That is simply absurd.
In 2010 another organisation Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) was formed with Alistair Noble as the Director. This claimed that Design was a scientific position and thus ought to be taught. The website material is very ambivalent on the age of the earth, but it is difficult not to see it as a YEC front. C4ID has attracted much criticism especially from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE). C4ID has attempted to influence scientists and teachers and have had lectures presented by American creationists.
Groups like Truth in Science and C4ID appeal for fairness and to encourage “critical thinking”. However in the push for fairness, there are no demands to teach a flat earth or phlogiston in chemistry. “Critical Thinking” sounds fine, but it is impossible to do that with the misrepresentation of science which is the hallmark of all creationism.
Over the last few years, there have been several official responses. On the official teachers’ website the document GUIDANCE ON THE PLACE OF CREATIONISM AND INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN SCIENCE LESSONS , emphasized that neither Creationism nor Intelligent Design are scientific theories. Shortly after this in September 2007 the Association for Science Education published a similar statement on Science Education, Intelligent Design and Creationism and stated that it agreed the consensus of science expressed in the Interacademy Panel statement; a global network of the world’s science academies, which gave a statement on the unquestionable scientific consensus of the universe being billions of years old, the earth younger and the evolutionary succession of life, in contrast to creationist opinion that the universe and earth are less than 10,000 years old. This demonstrates that Creationism has minimal support in the scientific community, in fact, a fraction of one per cent.
However there are misunderstandings, as in September 2008 when Michael Reiss resigned as Director of Education at the Royal Society, after some Fellows of the Society protested about his views on tackling creationism in science teaching. At a meeting of the British Association in September 2008, Reiss argued that creationist pupils needed to be treated with respect and that simply attacking creationism was futile as creationism was part of a wider (religious) world view. Reiss is a University Professor and chief executive of the Science Learning Centre in London, who has a Ph.D. in biology. He is also an ordained priest in the Church of England, which some atheists see as compromising his science. It seems that Reiss was misunderstood in his appeal to understand why some students are creationist as he made the obvious statement that understanding the students rather than criticizing them makes better educational sense.
Education and creationism have been in the news in 2011, and these type of issues have continued. In March2011 (and again in March 2012), Philip Bell of Creation Ministries International was invited to St Peter’s Church of England Aided School in Exeter to speak to GSCE students in which he gave ‘scientific’ arguments for creationism resulting in a protest by a Christian parent, Laura Horner, a geologist, who set up the CrISIS petition, followed by a letter of concern to Gove from several atheists and Christians, asking for clarification. In his reply on 7th July 2011 to Hugo Swire M.P. the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb, replied with reference to St Peter’s School, explaining the government position on the teaching of creationist in science lessons;
‘Creationism does not fit with the scientific consensus…: nor does it employ the scientific method. As such it should not be taught as a scientific theory or body of knowledge as it is neither of those things.’
This is one of the few examples where attempts to introduce creationism into schools has come to the public’s notice. It highlights the situation in that teaching creationism is contrary to Government policy, yet it is occurring in British schools
The second case was as a result of the present government’s initiative in the setting up of Free schools, whereby a group can sponsor a new school, which will be independent of the Local Education Authority. A fundamentalist church in Newark, the Everyday Champions Church, was seeking to set up the Everyday Champions School, as a free school in Newark with a creationist basis. The application was turned down in October, as it would have contravened government policy. As of April 2012 there are further applications for creationist Free Schools.
In 2013 a Lanarkshire school sent creationist books home for children. There was an outcry from parents and the BCSE was involved resulting in 18 months of controversy in Scotland and not yet resolved.
See also https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/roll-over-nessie-dinosaur-alive-and-well-in-scottish-parliament/ Paul Braterman has several blogs on Scottish creationism.
Throughout the period from April to September 2011, articles on the issue of creationism in schools appeared in major newspapers and in publications like The Times Educational Supplement and the New Scientist. Possibly as a result of this, on 19th September 2011about 30 scientists, including David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins and Michael Reiss wrote an open letter to the government insisting that creationism should not be taught in schools. Responses have been variable with positive reports in leading newspapers and Ekklesia and strongly negative ones by Creationist groups like CMI and AIG. So far there has been no response from the mainstream churches and little from politicians. It appears that only interested groups , either “evolutionary” scientists or creationists, are concerned about teaching creationism in schools, and that opposition is confined only to those who have an interest i.e. scientists, rather than of concern to a wider society. The fact that such eminent scientists made such an appeal, indicates how seriously they take what they consider to be the threat of creationism to science education and are trying to persuade the wider public. Yet, the teaching of creationism in schools is not considered a serious problem among most people, including church leaders and politicians.
(see https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/evolution-and-religion-in-britain-from-1859-to-2013/ for the last 150 years)
As well as these I found one church secondary school where parents were leaning on the head over creationism, and I felt the head was reluctant to offend them. This is a soft way in. It needs to be watched.
And then some teachers lean to YEC or are fearful to deal with subject.
In England it is not permissible to teach YEC whether in county or church schools, but I pick up instances of teachers leaning to YEC, but not too overtly. After all you can raise doubts about evolution., without actually teaching YEC. You can hint at doubts about Darwin or geological time. Others have found the same thing. However the evidence is anecdotal rather than systematic.
However teachers , of any faith or none, must deal with creationists pupils with respect and understanding.
BUT there is another side to this, both in the teaching material and by teachers. It can be, and is, presented that Christianity is actually YEC with the implication that a science student cannot be a Christian. I can give examples.
SHOULD Creationism be taught?
In a word “No”.
YEC as I presented above is simply not science and is a hotch-potch of odd ideas cobbled together to discredit science. Further I does not have roots in either traditional church teaching nor the science of past eras. (Yes, I know science has changed and that some ideas have been long rejected, but these were ideas put forward by wise scientists trying to make sense of the world. I could give loads of examples from geology, and itemise where geologists like Sedgwick, Buckland and Darwin got things wrong! Each were superb geologists.) BTW I have published on Buckland and Darwin’s geological work, especially on Welsh glaciation.
YEC dates back to the 19th century. First, in England with the anti-geologists who tried to overthrow the geology of Buckland, Sedgwick and Lyell with an odd mish-mash of ideas. They were effectively silenced by Buckland and Sedgwick among others. The church was wiser back then – and less polite.)
This is Tom Sopwith’s painting of Buckland looking for Welsh glaciers in 1841. Yes, he was a bit nuts.
We then move to the USA with the ideas Ellen White of the Seventh Day Adventists, who wrote a rambling work claiming all strata were laid down i the Flood. This was taken up after 1900 by McCready Price with his “New Geology”. The new ideas simmered in the USA until Morris and Whitcomb published The Genesis Flood in 1961. After that YEC slowly took off in the USA, becoming the default view of evangelicals. It spread to Britain by 1968 and gradually took root.
There is no way YEC should be taught as SCIENCE in SCIENCE lessons, but inevitably it will come up and teachers need to find a way of dealing with it in a sensitive fashion.
It is clear that YEC cannot be on any science curriculum, but its existence needs acknowledging.
However, if a teacher does teach it, then that has to be a disciplinary matter
The reasons for that should be obvious from what I have written.
YEC simply is not science.
Worse than that it is full of untruth, not in the sense that they get their science wrong, but by systematically distorting and misquoting standard science.
Beyond that it undermines a good understanding of so much science, especially geology and biology, which are needed both to understand and deal with the pressing issues of today.
In a time of environmental crisis we must get our science right.
We cannot say with Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance that all fossil fuels were laid down a few thousand years ago when Noah was in the ark! This chapter from Religion in Environmental and Climate Change deals with Beisner and YECs on Climate Change
If we do we cannot understand geomorphology and thus cannot make good judgments on how to deal with issues of flooding , earthquakes, climate change etc.
The same applies to more biological matters like medicines and medical methods etc.
The same for agriculture and forestry.
And so on, ad infinitum.
What should the churches do?
YEC has been present in the UK for nearly half a century and the churches have done little about it. It has taken over most independent evangelical churches, especailly with the activities of Answers in Genesis. I felt the Church of England has tried to look the other way , when their bishops could have spoken out decades ago. Some years ago Dawkins argued the Anglican bishops should have been forceful. I wrote to The Times agreeing with Dawkins and saying our bishops could have done more. A few days later I got an irate e-mail from my bishop criticising what I wrote! He’d sent it at 6 in the morning, so he must have been up all night fuming at me!!
Most mainline churches are not YEC, but they are a significant presence (at least 5% of clergy) in most, including the Church of England. There are several such vicars in my diocese!
Often in the churches teaching and preaching issues on creation , and thus of evolution, are sidestepped. This allows members to unwittingly think YEC may be true.
In recent years churches have, at long last, emphasised the care of the environment, which needs to be backed up by good simple science on geology, biology and evolution. Churchmembers do not need to know that the base of the Upper Bowland Shales is the Cravenoceras Ieion Marine Band, which was about 325.2 million years ago, but need a general awareness of deep geological time e.g. Ice Ages ended 10,000 years ago etc. YEC says the Ice Age took place after Noah’s flood!
Above all, there must be an insistence on integrity and rigorous honesty. Thus the churches must criticise YEC. I fear this will not happen.
YEC is simply Untrue
The main reason why YEC should not be taught is simply that it is untrue.
That cannot be stressed too strongly whether it upsets anyone or not.
YEC twists and misrepresents science to produce a complete parody of science and such that one begins to question whether leading creationists are not deliberately lying. After half a century of reading creationist writings I would find it very difficult not to say that.
It is also very bad science
If you follow bad science, pseudoscience or untrue science, this has serious implications on science -based projects in society whether for environmental work, medical improvements, agriculture, technology etc
And finally, as a Christian, I find YEC makes Christianity seem utterly false and dishonest.
Last of all to give a Welsh twist, William Williams (Pantycelyn) who wrote Guide me, O thou great redeemer made it very clear in Golwg ar Deyrnas Crist that he thought the earth was much older than Ussher’s 4004BC.
P.S. I was asked to write this for the Geol Soc of London book Geology and Religion. It brings out my position on geology and creation