Category Archives: science

Teaching Indigenous thought as science in New Zealand

N.B. Please note that I wrote this on 8/12/21 and much has been written since. Jerry Coyne has waxed eloquent on the topic! Mine is very much a preliminary comment and serious readers need to read more widely!!

Exactly 40 years ago this December the hot topic in science was the trial over the teaching of Creationism in Arkansas.  A bill had been passed a few months earlier to give equal time of the teaching  of “Creation” and “Evolution” in schools.  (Creation mean a 6 day creation some 6 -10,000 years ago according to a literal view of Genesis and Evolution meant an earth some 4.5 billion years old and humans evolving ultimately from a unicellular creature.) At first Creationists in America were rejoicing at their success, but soon forces were mobilised against them.

Soon the bill was challenged in the courts, with a court case running from 7th to17th December 1981. A vast number of witnesses were called on both sides and on Jan 5th 1982 Judge Overton gave a 38 page ruling concluding that Creation Science was not science but religious doctrine and thus could not be taught as science in schools. Neither the euphoria nor the despondency lasted. soon Larry Laudan was in dispute with Michael Ruse on the boundaries of science, with Laudan saying they were not clear-cut.

The issue of creationism has rumbled on and continues to make a stir today. There have been many cases of Creationism being sneakingly taught as science throughout the world. But that is not my concern.

My concern is the controversy in New Zealand over the teaching of Maori beliefs – ‘Matauranga’ – within science. According to an email from NZ to Jerry Coyne

 Matauranga means the knowledge system of the Maori. It includes reference to various gods e.g., Tane the god of the forest is said to be the creator of humans, and of all plants and creatures of the forest. Rain happens when the goddess Papatuanuku sheds tears. Maori try to claim that they have always been scientists. Their political demand is that Matauranga must be acknowledged as the equal of western (pakeha) science; that without this, Maori children will continue to fail in science at school.

As far as I can see this seems a fair description of Matuaranga. There are good intentions behind the introduction into education as Maoris have not been well treated by the British Colonists. The same applies to the new respect for Indigenous beliefs and practices in North America. It is impossible to deny that often the original indigenous populations have been dispossessed and marginalised. This has often made them disadvantaged in many ways. This raises political and ethical issues in many countries. However to put indigenous knowledge on a par with science is not the solution.

Not all are happy with the introduction of Matuaranga and seven professors sent a  letter to the NZ Listener earlier in 2021 to express their concern that it was undermining the teaching of science and Matuaranga had no place in the teaching of science.

Here the authors tried to give a balanced case but they were not popular and have received a backlash  – recounted by Jerry Coyne, who  is usually pretty accurate! Much of my summary is based on his early  blogs. Note that Garth Cooper is of Maori descent.

As a result 2000 academics and public figures signed a petition, including this statement

We, the signatories to this response, categorically disagree with their views. Indigenous knowledges – in this case, Mātauranga – are not lesser to other knowledge systems. Indeed, indigenous ways of knowing, including Mātauranga, have always included methodologies that overlap with “Western” understandings of the scientific method.

However, Mātauranga is far more than just equivalent to or equal to “Western” science. It offers ways of viewing the world that are unique and complementary to other knowledge systems.

Thus we have two serious views. First the magnificent (or not) Seven argue that Matauranga has no place in science teaching and they make a careful and respectful delineation between science and indigenous knowledge. They conclude by writing ” To accept it as the equivalent of science is to patronise and fail indigenous populations.” Here they make a clear demarcation with a sharp boundary between science and indigenous knowledge.  The 2000 wanted a blurred boundary, if one at all, and regard the two as complimentary.

It is also relevant that before the arrival of Europeans in the 19th century Maoris had not put their language to writing, but could produce accurate maps.

What should we think?

To go back to Arkansas and Creationism. A historian or philosopher of science will be more aware of fuzzy boundaries than a contemporary scientist in her/his lab. Historically many things which were once accepted as science are no longer. Think of Alchemy – but chemistry grew out of alchemy, or geology, which began with all strata being laid down in Noah’s Flood, which drained away from the 1660s to the 1840s. 20th century Creationism is a sustained attempt at re-introducing Noah’s Flood as vital for our understanding of geology. Creationists claim their ideas to be of equivalent value, or better, than conventional geology. However 99% or more geologists will see it as the illicit smuggling of a religious belief into science. Most Christians also see it as illicit and not science. Is this the same as Matauranga saying “Rain happens when the goddess Papatuanuku sheds tears.”? I would say that as a Christian (and a minister) and who has a science degree, worked as a geologist, that they are both illicit and wrong and have no place in science or science teaching.

That is not to dismiss and reject religious and indigenous views but to see them in relation to science. Neither will give science, but both can be very valuable in giving a wider perspective than science as in various ways they give values. Science gives no values and thus people have to go to their world view or belief for those.

Perhaps we can consider the cosmology of some bronze age goatsherders! (Village atheists use that expression and fail to recognise that the writers of the Old testament lived in the Iron Age) So some village atheists call the writers of the Old Testament! If you consider Genesis One in its environment, it not only speaks of a young earth, but a FLAT EARTH, with plants before the sun etc. It is on a par with a Rain goddess shedding tears, if taken literally. No secular university today will allow goatsherders’ cosmology to be taught alongside the Big Bang. As an orthodox Christian I value Genesis in what it says about God as Creator and the relationship of humans to creation/nature, but there is no way can it be taught as science. It gives values but not science. We can say the same for Matauranga and respect and value what it says about our relationship to the natural world, but reject it as science.

Any pre-scientific understanding of the world, whether indigenous or religious, needs to be given consideration, or rather, critical consideration, drawing out what is of value in that world view and its practices in agriculture, fishing etc.

If we consider the peoples of Britain in the Middle Ages as indigenous, we could assess their beliefs and practices, whether of farming or medicine. Some were excellent like crop rotation, others not so good. As a result beavers, bears and wolves were hunted to extinction since 1066, and the auroch in the late Bronze Age.  Some rugged cattle still have auroch genes. That does not look good for all traditional (indigenous) practices. As for medical practices….  Consider this from India in the 1940s. A labourer got severe acid burns in a munitions factory near Mumbai, so he went home and applied the traditional (indigenous?) treatment  – Cow Dung. It was not very effective and some time later it fell to my mother, as a volunteer nurse, to clean up the mess. I’ll leave that to your imagination. We heard that story several times and my mother was never fazed by our childhood injuries! Moving to Central America the indigenous culture of the Aztecs would make a fruitful study. It forms part of today’s Mexican culture. Prior to the coming of Spaniards,  the Aztecs had an excellent agricultural system but other practices would not be acceptable today. Guess which!

One field Maoris and all Polynesians were brilliant at was oceanic navigation. They could put information on maps but not writing. David  Abulafia in the first two chapters of The Boundless Sea discussses the gradual colonisation of uninhabited Pacific islands from the west.  The navigational skills needed were incredible and he gives a brief account on pages 16-9.

Undoubtedly indigenous understandings are strong on tacit knowledge rather than scientific knowledge, but that does not put them on an equal footing with science. Most indigenous belief systems are essentially mythological. If they, and in NZ Matauaranga, have a place in science teaching, then so do Creationism, alchemy and astrology. I am not dismissive of either alchemy or early attempts of flood geology as attempts to understand geology and chemistry 500 years ago, but both were rejected as wrong. As a historian of geology I have great respect for James Ussher and the “flood geologists” of the 17th century, but see them as totally superceded.

Atheist scientists like Jerry Coyne or Richard Dawkins are having a field day on this  and in many ways they are justified. It does provide ammunition fro their particular atheistic world view.

What about it?

The first thing to say is that totally undermines the nature of science as a useful way of knowing, which gives closer and closer approximations of truth. Science has given some many benefits as well in  technology, medicine and agriculture, despite misuse by some.

It is difficult not to see a creeping Post-modernism here, which ultimately removes any truth content from anything. Of course it fits in with some progressive ideas, especially in university settings and soon gets the charge, not entirely unfounded, of wokeism.

It cannot be denied that indigenous populations have been treated badly in countries like NZ, Australia, Canada, USA and South Africa and that colonialism has a blemished record. Each country needs to address this, but will fail to do so by simplistic efforts on decolonialism and over-valuing indigenous knowledge as equal to science.

Indigenous cultures must be valued and religious views respected but not at the cost of reducing science teaching and practice to myth.

The arguments against teaching any indigenous belief and practice are the same as the arguments against teaching Creationism, in any shape or form, as having no scientific validity

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Peter Carrell, bishop of Christchurch in south island New Zealand, replied very constructively at length to my blog. With his permission I repeat them here. He is much more informed locally than I am. Please read them in conjunction my blog.

1. Maori understand that to defeat the pandemic they need to be vaccinated. They recognise that global science lies behind understanding of the virus and therefore of the vaccine required to defeat it. Matauranga expands to incorporate new learning.

2. Matauranga is a whole body of knowledge, both understanding the spirituality of nature (e.g. references to gods of forest, sea, earth and sky), the nature of spirituality (e.g. traditional religious beliefs, the Christian Scriptures, the relationship between Christian belief &

2. (Cont’d) those traditional beliefs. As well as engagement with nature (e.g. the science of navigation which brought Polynesian sailors from further north to Aotearoa, likely preceded by careful observation of bird flight and sea currents; science of food and healing re plants)

3. (As I understand it) Matauranga as a body of knowledge also refers to a wholistic understanding of human life as Maori (e.g. in offering medical care) seek to fuse global science, local (Maori) science, Maori culture and spirituality, to treat the whole person. From this view:

4. Maori (and supporters) are arguing for Pakeha/Westerners to respect this different way of both knowing and applying knowledge, not least so that Maori are treated well in our society and respond with engagement in education and embrace of opportunities in skills training.

I see the 7 scientists as making an important point, but possibly failing to understand what Matauranga means and why its teaching might edify Maori, indeed all Kiwis. I also see a group of academics (opposing them) as failing to engage in proper debate of ideas. It is chilling

Last in series) that our varsities (& Royal Soc) might be suppressing debate rather than encouraging it. In the long run I cannot see anyone, Maori or Pakeha, being well served by preventing discourse & debate about matters fundamental to human life, experience and understanding

For further reading see the following.

A recent 28/12/21 NZ news item

https://www.newsroom.co.nz/royal-society-investigation-into-matauranga-maori-letter-sparks-academic-debate?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR37X1rBBJptt95KmArkynId6GOxH6arrKygzeFwa6sZxIMNlvrXGL-5AG4#Echobox=1640631025

The first two by Jerry Coyne are more hostile.

https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2021/12/03/ways-of-knowing-new-zealand-pushes-to-have-indigenous-knowledge-mythology-taught-on-parity-with-modern-science-in-science-class/?fbclid=IwAR2nhDDZfxlzCjEebuNRYkSc2XRiotBMiSpVoXbwPz91dU-06DCq22NcWmc

https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2021/12/08/maori-ways-of-knowing-to-be-taught-as-science-in-nz-universities/?fbclid=IwAR06FwJt3NQsQub7lUBwxCJzgUIW_1cIsTypiYFwTqlmvMBzyp9Ahg28nJA

https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/2545-matauranga-maori-and-science

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C4%81tauranga_M%C4%81ori

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/indigenous-knowledge

Evangelicals & Science – part 4 of 12 Bible & science during the time of Wesley

Now after giving some background on what evangelicals are and their understanding of the bible in relation to science, we come now to the history.

File:John Wesley by William Hamilton.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

I start with comments on the Conflict Thesis of science and religion and then to the legacy of James Ussher, that good liberal scholar. he’d turn in his grave!

Science did not figure that largely among 18th century evangelicals. They took Newton and all his works for granted, but geology and evolution were still on the horizon.

The ones considered are Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Prince of the American Colonies (they should have stayed that way). And then John Wesley of England and William Williams (Pantycelyn) of Wales (author of O Guide thou great Redeemer). Many still accepted a young earth , but not out of conviction, except Pantycelyn, who followed 17th Century Theorists of the Earth and allowed more time than Ussher would.

Wesley was fascinated by science and wrote helpful books on it and on natural philosophy. He also had medical interests. He also thought animals would be resurrected with humans.

Nothing is said about the rise of geology as there is nothing to say until Joseph Townsend came along at the turn of the century

So here is the chapter

Eighteenth Century Evangelicals; from Jonathan Edwards to John Welsey

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A history of Evangelicals and Science – part 2 of 12, What are evangelicals?

Evangelicals and Science

Chapter 1;  What are evangelicals?

This is the second installment of my book Evangelicals and Science (2008) and considers what an evangelical is, before considering the science.

First part; 

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/11/16/a-history-of-evangelicals-and-science-part-1-of-12-parts/

Just what is an evangelical?

Truth and Freedom: A Classic Billy Graham Message

To some it is the conman revivalist preacher, holding out a begging bowl and jumping into bed with various women.

To others it is those who are very biblically-based in their faith and try to follow Jesus closely.

To many they a wonky American religious types, who sometimes pop over the pond.

Each of those contains a partial truth, but evangelicals are so much more.

They go back to the early 18th century and gave a new twist to Protestantism.

As it is not easy to sum them up in a few words, you can read my summary – which was written in 2007. It’s chapter 1 of my book Evangelicals and Science

What are Evangelicals?

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A history of Evangelicals and Science – part 1 of 12 parts

Evangelicals and Science (pub 2008) Foreword and Introduction

In 2008 my Evangelicals and Science was published as part of the Greenwood series. On the same day Peter Hess produced Catholics and Science. 

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My aim was to give an overview considered historically. I confess I was not an outside, impartial observer as my roots are evangelical and moved away, more from evangelical behaviour than theology. I became a Christian through the Christian Union at Oxford, so began with an excellent pedigree. Soon after I was in Uganda as an exploration and mining geologist, where I was baffled meeting a 300lb missionary from the southern States, who lent me creationist literature. I thought it bunk and that no one could believe it. In 1971 I went to L’Abri and was told to study books like The Genesis Flood. I soon found how flawed they were. No one was bothered in Britain until the Arkansas trial of 1981.

I studied the whole evangelical relationship with science mostly from a historical point of view, with an emphasis on geology. That comes out in the book and no apologies. I went historical as I felt that would clarify many issues and I found it did and that I was echoing the work of many historians of science like Ron Numbers and David Livingstone.

I could go on but in the successive blogs I’ll present another chapter, which you can read by opening the link beginning GNWD018

So here is the beginning;

The forewords of the editor and myself.

GNWD018FM_pi-xvi

Contents

Chapter 1 What Are Evangelicals? 7
Chapter 2 Evangelicals, the Bible, and Science 33
Chapter 3 Eighteenth-Century Evangelicals and Science: From
Jonathan Edwards to John Wesley 59
Chapter 4 Evangelicals and Science in the Age of Revolution 83
Chapter 5 Post-Darwinian Evangelicals 113
Chapter 6 Evangelicals in the Shadow of Scopes 139
Chapter 7 The Rise of Creationism: Young Earth Creationism
and Intelligent Design, 1961–2007 165
Chapter 8 Evangelicals and Science Today 201
Chapter 9 Evangelicals, the Environment, and Bioethics 225
Conclusion 245
Primary Sources 249
References 285
Index 299

Chronology of Events

1000BC

storehouse-300x165

1720s Cotton Mather supports smallpox inoculation.
1730s Beginning of Evangelical Revival in Massachusetts (Edwards)
and England (Whitfield).
1738 Conversion of John Wesley.
1758 Death of Jonathan Edwards from smallpox vaccination.
1771 Francis Asbury goes to the American colonies and starts the
Methodist church.
1795 Death of John Wesley.
1790s Evangelicals blossom in Britain and America.
1790–1820s Series of evangelical science professors at Cambridge.
1817 Rev. Adam Sedgwick elected Professor of Geology at Cambridge

.300px-Adam_Sedgwick
1812–1867 Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution, London, much experimental
work and lectures.
1820s–1840s Height of “evangelical” geologists

anning

—Sedgwick,Lewis, Miller in Britain and Hitchcock and Silliman in United States.
1859 Publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species.

SH16DARWIN2
1860s Correspondence of Asa Gray and Darwin on design and
evolution.
1880s Height of “rapprochement” with B. B. Warfield and G. F.
Wright.
1910 Publication of The Fundamentals.
1920s Rise of anti-evolution, and splits over modernism.
1925 The Scopes Trial, Dayton, Tennessee.
1930s Heyday of Harry Rimmer and George McCready Price.
1941 Formation of the American Scientific Affiliation in United
States.
1944 Formation of what became Research Scientists Christian Fellowship
(later Christians in Science) in London.
1949 First Billy Graham Crusade at Los Angeles.
1954 Publication of Ramm’s The Christian Vew of Science and Scripture.
1961 Publication The Genesis Flood.
1962 Formation of Creation Research Society.
1972 Founding of Institute of Creation Research at San Diego.
1981 Trial at Arkansas.
1992 Formation of Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN).
1994 Formation of Answers in Genesis at Florence, Kentucky (with
Australian roots).

Image result for ken ham image
2000 Cornwall Declaration opposing the EEN.
2005 Charles Townes, Nobel Laureate for MASER and LASER
awarded Templeton Prize.
2006 American evangelicals divided over global warming.
2007 Opening of Creation Museum in Kentucky

And then my introduction, which gives an outline of each chapter and acknowledgments. Many will be familiar to those who follow the issue and I leave it to members of HOGG to identify the one who called me “bloody clergyman” and gave me immense help in my related interest on the history of geology.

Introduction

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To sum up where I stand consider the plaque to Adam Sedgwick in Dent

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Not a martyr for science.

The classic condemnation of the Reformer Calvin comes with the burning at the stake of Servetus.

This was for denying the Triinity but this reblog points out how it is claimed that he was a martyr for science. It is true he made some medical discovery but he was executed for heresy , and would have been by Catholics too.

https://thonyc.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/not-a-martyr-for-science/

Engaging Faith with Science amid a Pandemic | Psephizo

A useful blog on science and religion issues by a fellow Anglican Priest who was initially a chemistry teacher and thus a chemist!

His persepctive is much more on the physical sciences than mine which usually tends to matter geological and the implications there.

The second part is on Christian attitudes to Covid Augsutine

Source: Engaging Faith with Science amid a Pandemic | Psephizo

Should Creationism be taught in Welsh Schools

Yes, but no!

YES! that will annoy some. Surely I should just shriek “NO”! We need more than a knee-jerk reaction.

168946_477433586556_727651556_6500443_8206770_nararat_or_bust

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

https://humanism.org.uk/2019/09/05/uks-top-scientists-tell-the-welsh-government-teach-evolution-not-creationism/

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?”

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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.

http://tetzoo.com/blog/2019/9/8/philip-j-senters-fire-breathing-dinosaurs-the-tetzoo-review?fbclid=IwAR3L8wzLxgcs8KkejkqurBA8j9HW_oUz4srdFVKkDFWM8FZ38zJYCAbOF0Y

 

The Bible specifically states that the first few books of the Old Testament are not meant to be taken literally. Despite this, a number of Young Earth creationists promote a view of the ancient world where people lived alongside allosaurs and pterosaurs and so on. If you’ve seen a version of this page mentioning lemonade and homosexuality, it’s a spoof (the original text does not include that section of text). Image: (c) Ken Ham,  Dinosaurs of Eden .

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. 

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.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/a-geologist-looks-at-creationism/

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.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/creationist-nonsense-on-geology-the-odd-case-of-prof-mcintosh-d-sc/

It is difficult not to get angry about this type of thing.

creationist binjgo

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.)

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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!)

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/how-to-deal-with-victorian-creationists-and-win/

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.

Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, Bristol, England, UK

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!!

 

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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)[35] 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)…”[36]. 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[37] 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.[38]

http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/tis2/index.php/home.html

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[39], 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.[40] 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)[41]. 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 [42],  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[43] and stated that it agreed the consensus of science expressed in the Interacademy Panel statement[44]; 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.[45] 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[46], 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.[47] 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.

TruthBeTold (2)Cart pulled by dinosaur

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.[48] Responses have been variable with positive reports in leading newspapers and Ekklesia[49] and strongly negative ones by Creationist groups like CMI[50] and AIG[51]. 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)

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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.)

buckland

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

9781441169297_Ch07_Fpp_txt_prf

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.

 

Conclusion

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

339lgscreation

 

Killing off the Conflict Narrative (of Science and Religion)

Another good blog on the whole issue of the supposed conflict of science and religion.

This should have been a dead duck decades ago , but it is still used as a rod to beat Christians with , comes out in science teaching at schools and in popular culture.

Faith and Wisdom in Science

It’s been a long and tiring century or more of fake news, but I nurture a precious hope (how can one live otherwise?) that the voices of evidence, reason and truth will ultimately prevail.

One of the more persistent myths that have invaded our conversion, media and (very sadly) education, is the late Victorian invention that religious faith and science are necessarily in conflict. So prevalent and normalised is this assumption, that recent surveys in UK high schools find up to 70% of 15 year olds think it (but without being able to say why). I say ‘late Victorian’ for before the publication of two books, now forgotten and unread but best-sellers in their time, there is no great ‘conflict narrative’. The books were: History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), by Andrew Dickson White, and History of the Conflict between Religion and Science

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The Poison of Precaution: The Anti-Science Mindset

The Precautionary Principle (PP) sounds good and wise, and we all use it up to a point in many aspects of life. If followed as Extinction Rebellion and other suggest we would not even have bicycles, due to their dangers, and clearly not trains . william Huskisson would agree about trains!!

So yet another warning of the the daft extremism which passes as environmentalism

The Risk-Monger

In last year’s excellent book, The Wizard and the Prophet, Charles Mann juxtaposed two polemics on the environment in the 1940s during the turning point of agricultural development: Norman Borlaug and William Vogt. Borlaug (the Wizard) took the scientific approach to innovate and develop new tools to solve problems facing agriculture. Vogt (the Prophet and arguably the founder of the modern environmental movement) would see an environmental problem as a reason for man to pull back and let the planet heal itself.

To this day, both approaches (to innovate or to pull back and take precaution) have defined environmental debates. There is no doubt which side I fall on. Borlaug’s scientific route has allowed humanity to thrive over the last 70 years. The Green Revolution in agriculture led to global economic expansions as abundance led to generations of risk-takers being able to leave the land and develop other opportunities…

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Sex differences in the brain

An interesting blog on whether there a sex differences in human brains

It does seem that there are and no amount of pleading can deny it!!

Why Evolution Is True

For a while I’ve been criticizing ideologically-based scientific claims, including the arguments that “evolutionary psychology is bunk” and “there are no differences between male and female brains in either structure or wiring”. These claims are based on ideology because both are palpably ridiculous from what we know about biology or from recently published research, and yet people maintain them because they want the brain to be a blank slate and they want there to be no average differences between men and women in brain structure and function. These wants come from left-wing ideology.

Although these claims are ideological and not scientific, they are based on a well-meaning philosophy: the view that people should be treated fairly and given equal opportunities. But this has engendered the fears that distort the science:  a fear that if we’re not blank slates, but that sexes and different ethnic groups differ genetically—perhaps in part because…

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