March 2011

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The latest from Jesus & Mo…

 

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If you're not religious, say so in the 2011 UK census!

The British Humanist Association has been campaigning for UK citizens to accurately respond to the census question on religion.

Why should I answer the question at all? Well, this is a personal thing and I wouldn’t pressurise people into any specific answer or none.  But census data get used for all sorts of policy decisions, among them the role of religion in our everyday lives.  What tends to happen is that people confuse the cultural heritage with religious beliefs they do not hold to.

Why does it matter? The BHA has prepared a concise summary of how the 2001 census data on religious belief were used (or misused may be closer to reality.  We should not be logging ourselves as Jedi Knights as some kind or prank.  We should not say we are christian if we not longer practice the faith.  We should be upfront and truthful about our religious faith.

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I notice that C4ID are holding a summer school to push Intelligent Design creationism to the already converted (Summer School | C4ID).  Their web publicity on that page still seems to be under development, so one may expect more information to come.  It’s a five day residential event.

Who’s speaking?

The usual crew, including Dr Alastair Noble and Dr David Galloway (two of the C4ID triumvirate), plus one or two other interesting names, including John Langlois, a barrister based in Guernsey.  Other participants include Dr Jonathan Loose (who is at Heythrop College, the Specialist Philosophy and Theology College of the University of London), Prof Guillermo Gonzales (an astronomer at Grove City College – a Christian school in Pennsylvania), Prof Steve Fuller (Sociologist, Warwick University), Professor Chris Shaw (Pharmacy, Queen’s Belfast – probably the only biologist), Dr Jonathan Wells (of the Discovery Institute, the people who cooked up ID as a facade for creationism), and a lawyer, David Williams.

Not many biologists.  One thing that occurs to me each time I peruse the current biological research literature is the huge amount of information published that is consistent with evolutionary theory and a huge global community of biological researchers, particularly in comparison to the paucity of biological researchers pushing ID creationism.  It’s a shame a bigger presence of biologists couldn’t be mustered for this event: were ID creationism really science, I would have thought this wouldn’t have been difficult.  But then again, I am not surprised.

Who may attend?

Interestingly, you must already be committed to intelligent design creationism:

Applicants should be able to demonstrate an interest in and commitment to the design argument.
One purpose of the school is to build a network of emerging professionals across the disciplines
who are conversant with the arguments for intelligent design. Because of professional
sensitivities, participation in the conference will be handled in strict confidence and with
anonymity.

The application requirements include the request that applicant provide:

(1) a resume / c.v. (2) a short statement of your interest in intelligent
design and its perceived relationship to your area of work and life and (3) a letter of
recommendation from a person of standing who knows your work and is friendly towards ID.

So the upshot is this is an event to build a network of people who already believe in ID creationism.  It’s interesting that participation is to be held in secrecy: the mind boggles.  Whether it’s intended to protect the attendees or for more sinister aims isn’t clear (perhaps I’ve been reading too much pulp fiction!).  In several decades as a biology researcher, I’ve never attended a conference or workshop that had such a level of secrecy.   One other interesting observation: there’s some cash behind the school, as bursaries are being made available for up to 85% of the £600 attendance fee…

Where is it being held?

At the Elim Conference Centre, run by Elim Pentecostal Churches.  That in itself is interesting: one might have expected ID creationism, which masquerades as genuine science, to have gone for a more conventional venue.

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The Daily Telegraph has coverage of the issues raised by the BSCE in their open letter to the Education Secretary (Michael Gove ‘crystal clear’ creationism is not science – Telegraph).

The Department of Education responded to a letter of concern from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), which is worried by applications from Christian groups to run free schools.

It fears that schools might be exploited by groups seeking to promote a literal interpretation of the Bible at the expense of science classes.

However, the Department of Education confirmed that Mr Gove is “crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact”.

Two of the issues that raises concerns with me are firstly the extent to which the Free Schools will be free to deviate from the national curriculum, and secondly that teachers in Free Schools will not need formal teaching qualifications.  These approaches do not seem well thought out.

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The Guardian has posted a story relating to the BCSE letter to the Education Secretary Michael Gove (Free schools will not teach creationism, says Department for Education | Science | guardian.co.uk).

The Department for Education has said Michael Gove is “crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact” after a warning that the government’s new free schools could be exploited by fundamentalist churches looking to promote a literal interpretation of the Bible.

The remarks follow a letter to the education secretary from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) suggesting that creationists planned to use government legislation on free schools to mount a “concerted attack” on science education.

It does sound as though the Coalition Government is making rules up as they go along, as problems and loopholes in the Free School proposals are revealed:

Last July, Gove acknowledged there were concerns about “inappropriate faith groups using this legislation to push their own agenda.” The education secretary, who was addressing MPs on the cross-party Commons education committee, said his department was working on the regulations to ensure there were no “extremist groups taking over schools”.

 

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Jerry Coyne’s informative and entertaining blog Why Evolution is True is always a good read. The other day he write about a recent paper on the evolution of the true flies, or Diptera. Of course, the nutjobs at the Instutute for Creation “Research”, who’s slogan appears to be the deeply unsatisfying Biblical – Accurate – Certain have weighed in with a typically ignorant distortion. Jerry invited Phil Ward to write a response to the neo-theocrats of the ICR (see News flash: creationists distort science « Why Evolution Is True).

 

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The return of the Conservative Party to government in the UK, albeit in coalition form, has brought with it the possibility (some would say threat) of considerable social change.  Germane to the subject of this blog is the impact the coalition plans to wreak on education.  Those of us in higher education are acutely aware of the impact of the Government’s drive to contain the budget deficit (whether or not one considers the strategy to be driven principally by ideological and not fiscal grounds).  The Government also plans changes to the delivery of school level education, perhaps less driven by economics and more by ideology.

In rapid policy shift reminiscent of a party of school kids let loose in a sweet shop, the Rt. Hon Michael Gove has begun the implementation of a Free School policy that risks the unwise establishment of schools barely controlled by the national curriculum and potentially driven by religious and other ideology.

The British Centre for Science Education (also see their forum and blog), of which I am a committee member, has written to Mr Gove (Michael Gove, Free Schools, Everyday Champions Academy and Creationism) to raise the issue of religion-driven agenda, particularly as it relates to the teaching of biblical creationism as an alternative to evolution.  The BCSE’s letter is accompanied by a memorandum citing evidence pertaining to a number of cases, including the Everyday Champions Church proposal for a free school.  Rather than merely restate the text here, visit the link above, and in particular review the memorandum attached to the letter.

[Also worth reading is James Gray’s excellent article for The New Humanist magazine: Free to teach creationism?]

It is essential for all those with an interest in science education (not just biology, as all science education is threatened by such bad education) to be vigilant against incursions of old religious world view into science education.  We need to be vigilant especially as Government policy seeks to discard political responsibility for governance in such ‘local’ matters and hand over control to local groups.

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