May 2010

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2010.

Just a quick post as I’m cycle touring and Internet access is infrequent.
Yesterday’s Guardian had an article describing the Culture Minister Nelson McCausland’s view that the Ulster Museum should better reflect creationist views. McCausland’s reported to have said that this is a “human rights issue”, as he claims that around a third of the Northern Ireland population hold creationist views, and he thinks that the museum should “reflect the views of all the people in Northern Ireland in all it’s richness and diversity”. This isn’t his only slightly odd belief – he’s reported to believe that Ulster Protestants are one of the lost tribes of Israel.
On a cultural and historical level inclusion of creationist views is perhaps acceptable – after all, in the 17th Century, Archbishop Ussher calculated the date of the Earth’s creation as October 4004 BC – but in relation to scientific exhibits such a view is risible.
McCausland’s views appear to be shared by his NI Assembly colleague Mervyn Storey, who’s reported to have been at the forefront of a campaign to promote creationism in Northern Ireland’s museums. More worryingly, Storey was the chair of the NI Assembly education committee, though by implication no longer holds that role. Is Mervyn Storey Northern Ireland’s counterpart of Texan dentist Don McLeroy?

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The BBC News website reports the adoption of a right wing christian syllabus in Texas (Texas schools to get controversial syllabus).  The article lists a bunch revisions to US history, but not the creationism issue.

Students in Texas will now be taught the benefits of US free-market economics and how government taxation can harm economic progress.

They will study how American ideals benefit the world but organisations such as the UN could be a threat to personal freedom.

And Thomas Jefferson has been dropped from a list of enlightenment thinkers in the world-history curriculum, despite being one of the Founding Fathers who is credited with developing the idea that church and state should be separate.

The doctrine has become a cornerstone of US government, but some religious groups and some members of the Texas Education Board disagree, our correspondent says.

The board, which is dominated by Christian conservatives, voted nine-to-five in favour of adopting the new curriculum for both primary and secondary schools.

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Many websites around the worls have picked up on and are promoting the Everybody Draw Mohammed day. my own view is that this seems a little childish (and indeed gets a lot of websites banned in Pakistan).

I came across the Mohammed Image Archive a few weeks ago.  It would seem that strictures against depicting Mohammed must be either rather recent or somewhat sect-dependent (my knowledge of Islam isn’t good enough to offer an opinion on that).   But some of the illustrations of Mohammed and his life and works held at that site are strikingly beautiful (particularly the old Persian illustrations), and many are derived from Islamic civilisations.

What went wrong?

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As The Scotsman reports (Anger as Primate refuses to resign – Scotsman.com), Cardinal Brady won’t resign over the Catholic child abuse scandals.  Apparently

Cardinal Brady, 70, was in defiant mood outside his residence at Armagh Cathedral, vowing to stay on and lead the Church’s efforts to improve child protection safeguards [my emphasis].

The irony does seem lost on the Catholic Church. But then again, a potty belief system does lead to a belief in support:

But the Primate and Archbishop of Armagh insisted that the majority of people he had spoken to over the last two months had urged him to stay.

He said: “I was on pilgrimage to Lourdes yesterday with 800 people from this diocese, and not one said they had no confidence in me. They said they wanted me to stay and continue this work.”

Like a bunch of people who believe in miracles in Lourdes are going to disagree with a Cardinal, aren’t they!  But this is the same man who was instrumental in covering up child abuse:

Dr Brady has faced calls to resign since it emerged on 14 March 2009
that in 1975 he conducted an investigation into allegations of child sex
abuse by Fr Brendan Smyth which involved him swearing two teenagers to
secrecy. Standing outside Armagh Cathedral, the 70-year-old cleric
acknowledged there were some who would not agree with his decision but
vowed to lead the Church’s efforts to improve child protection measures.
It certainly wasn’t an easy decision” he said. “I have
listened to a lot of people, reflected as I said I would, I listened to
survivors, to priests, to religious people up and down the length of
this diocese and I have decided to continue in my present role, to play
my part in this diocese. “
Because I want to maintain the momentum
towards better child safeguarding and not alone that, also the momentum
towards renewal of the faith, which is essential here and a big
challenge.

The bottom line seems to be that the Catholic Church just doesn’t get it.

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The Times’ website has a profile of Don McLeroy, the Texas dotty dentist who’s been seeking to destroy education in Texas (Don McLeroy, the dentist who wants to drill pupils in Creationism – Times Online) – and, because Texas is the largest textbook market in the USA, thereby influencing education across the USA.  I’ve blogged about the situation in Texas before (e.g. Confused response to Texan science education guidelines).  From the article:

Don McLeroy is generally available to journalists between 12.30 and 1.30pm. The rest of the time he is either fixing the teeth of patients he considers to be direct descendents of Adam and Eve, or making space for his “Young Earth” world view in the textbooks of Texan schoolchildren. […]  He describes himself as a Christian fundamentalist and believes Earth was created 10,000 years ago.

His views would matter little were he not also chairman of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), which oversees the biggest textbook-procurement programme in the United States and for the past two years has been dominated by creationists like himself.

In a classic idiotic creationist argument, which reveals the depths of the man’s scientific illiteracy, the dotty dentist gives an example of a biological problem that he believes cannot be answered by evolutionary biology:

“Take bones,” he says, offering a brief description of the collagen and amino acids in bones as an example of biological complexity. “Intuitively people have a tough time thinking nothing guided this. Are we supposed to believe that all of a sudden, say on April 1, five million years ago, the first bone appeared? The question is, how did evolution do this, and the evolutionists have been painted into a corner. They don’t even have a clue. How did that first piece of bone get there?”

My take on this is that his foolish bronze age belief system, in which things are supposed to happen by divine fiat, and in which miracles really do happen, has influenced his meagre understanding such as to suggest this is what evolutionary biology suggests happens:  it’s not just a reflection of his scientific illiteracy, but of his non-evidence-based belief.

McLeroy and his socially conservative cronies haven’t restricted themselves to demolishing science education, but have also turned their attention to rewriting American history to downplay (or indeed erase) historical figures who don’t align sufficiently with their views.

[…] in the past year they have passed more than 200 amendments to the
state’s social studies standards with the effect of emphasising the role
of conservatives in recent US history and downplaying that of liberals.

The good news is that earlier this year he lost the renomination to the Texas State Board of Education, but possibly not in time to prevent a legacy of stupidity polluting the American education system (and probably beyond).  The wider issue is that when control of apparently minor administrative functions is passed over to the public by election, the tendency is that these positions will be filled by individuals with no professional expertise, and little experience, elected by a minority of motivated voters.  In other words, the extreme positions will tend to wield disproportionate power.

As I wake to a catastrophic election result in the UK (suffice it to say my student years were spent under the vile Thatcher government), I feel concerned that one of the planks of the Conservative party’s policy was to push an increased level of local control to communities.  I fear that we may soon see the unravelling of reason and militant single-issue groups gain control of school boards across the country.  But maybe I’m just a pessimist.

But I understand my MP has been re-elected (in my constituency, a horse would be elected as long as it sported a blue rosette).  This MP is profoundly stupid in matters relating to health and science (which has not prevented her from sitting on Parliamentary science committees), and is a member of the Cornerstone Group of Conservative MPs, of which more in a later article. 

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