July 2011

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Hot on the heels of a Church of England faith school inviting a young earth creationist to present an alternative view of the origins of life and it’s diversity (which kick-started CrISIS), we have another example of a religious group with rather extreme views using a faith school to gain access to children (Schoolboy made to write ‘Sorry’ on piece of paper – then eat it – Parentdish).

This is pretty scary stuff – members of an evangelical church (the New Life Baptist Church) visited Ainderby Steeple  primary school, which is a Church of England school, for some sort of bizarre cultish event known as ‘Kidzone Roadshow’.  It’s reported that at least one child has been pretty seriously disturbed by the aggressive tosh being pushed by the evangelicals and, as in the case of the Exeter school, his parent got very little helpful response from the school’s head teacher when she complained:

[...] she complained to headteacher Fiona Sharp. She claims that when she confronted Miss Sharp over ­making pupils eat their ‘apologies to God’, written on rice paper, she was told: ‘That is what we do.’

Appallingly it seems that this isn’t a solitary example of such abuse of vulnerable children: the child was transferred to another school only to find the same religious crazies have a foothold there too.

Indeed, this may be quite widespread – the National Secular Society says it’s received several similar reports (Evangelical group made children “eat their sins”).  The vulnerability of faith schools to incursions from religious extremists seeking to indoctrinate children at an impressionable age is clear, and one further argument for the elimination of faith schools.

 

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It would seem that the critical scientific thinking so lacking among Intelligent Design creationism proponents is still absent over at the Centre for Intelligent Design.  An update to their website reports on a recent review paper in Nature (New research on protein folding demonstrates intelligent design).  The article is by Antony Latham, a GP on the Isle of Harris.  Latham has published a number of books and articles with a general theme opposing evolution.  We find a page at the Christian Medical Fellowship with a book review and an article; the abominably (and dishonestly) named website Truth in Science offers a review of his book The Naked Emperor: Darwinism Exposed; so it’s pretty clear where he stands.  In the usual way, here we have a non-scientist with christian religious leanings exhibiting the usual comprehension failure where the complexities of life are concerned.

The article referred to on the C4ID site is what looks like a pretty comprehensive review of the roles of molecular chaperones in ensuring proteins adopt a correct conformation following synthesis (Hartl et al (2011) Molecular chaperones in protein folding and proteostasis. Nature 475; 324-332 doi:10.1038/nature10317 – here’s the abstract – you’ll need a subscription to read the full article).

Latham’s take, as is usual with ID creationism, is that “this is all terribly complicated, I don’t understand how this could possibly have appeared naturally, so a designer must have done it”.  This is just intellectual cowardice, and differs from conventional creationist claptrap by merely replacing ‘god’ with ‘a designer’.  And let’s face it, for a member of the Christian Medical Fellowship, who can the ‘designer’ be if not the biblically described god?

I sometimes wonder whether scientists open themselves to this kind of thing.  I note from the abstract that:

[...] cells invest in a complex network of molecular chaperones, which use ingenious mechanisms to prevent aggregation and promote efficient folding.

Which does use language of design.  Of course (as I’ve pointed out before) scientists use analogy and metaphor to explain complicated concepts.  We are all exposed to concepts such as ‘information’, ‘code’, ‘transcription’, translation’ and the like as we learn about biology. It is the misuse of such terms as literal descriptors that is so common in the writing produced by ID creationists.

 

 

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In a second part of covering the CrISIS Campaign for the Cross Rhythms website (Creationism In Schools Isn’t Science – Part 2), Rebecca Duffett includes this wonderful interpretation of Dr Alastair Noble’s stance on origins:

Alastair Noble from the Centre for Intelligent Design believes that science points to a creator of some sort and doesn’t believe this idea can be eradicated from the science classroom, ‘The job of science is to look at empirical evidence and draw a conclusion from it, and you can’t bring to science a presumption that there can be no intelligence in the universe. If you do that you’re outdoing science; you’re outdoing philosophy. You’ve made up your mind what the answer’s going to be before you start.’

As in her earlier article (part 1), Rebecca gives no references or links to the evidence or sources for her statements, so I’m taking it as read that this is a reasonably accurate replay of Noble’s beliefs. Not a great surprise, given his church-related activity.

In fact, Noble’s got a pretty odd view of science here – at least based on this quotation.  Science doesn’t make a presumption that there is no intelligence in the Universe (I’m assuming Noble’s quotation is really referring to a creator’s (designer’s) intelligence, and there’s pretty obviously some intelligence on Earth): rather it awaits evidence that there is some intelligence out there.  Intelligent Design creationism would have us believe in some supernatural entity capable of designing everything around us, and indeed putting it in place (Noble’s ‘Creator’ in the above quotation).  This is where the sheer duplicity of ID creationists shines through: claiming Intelligent Design as science, when it patently is not.

 

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The Times Higher has a brief report on a recently published survey on religious beliefs held by university students and staff (Survey of staff and student faith draws criticism).  The report seems to home in on issues of religious discrimination, and found

The survey of staff at UK institutions – which had 3,077 responses and was “not intended to be statistically representative” – found that 46.8 per cent of respondents were Christian, with “no religion” (36.5 per cent) and “spiritual” (4.5 per cent) the next biggest groups.

That’s a result that I found a little surprising, but maybe that reflects my own academic position in a Faculty of Sciences.   Perhaps that’s why religious discrimination is rare (according to the report).

What caught my eye were the closing paragraphs:

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said that the study sought “to uncover so-called discrimination that respondents hadn’t even thought of as a problem”.

He added: “With the rising tide of students espousing creationism – and academics being increasingly reticent about challenging this – it would be far more constructive in our view if HE institutions, instead of paying greater attention to religion and belief, paid it less attention” and treated “all students as equal regardless of what beliefs they hold”. [my emphasis]

This is something I’d not come across, but maybe reflects a recent survey at Glasgow University, which as I recall suggested surprising numbers of students beginning Biology courses didn’t favour evolutionary theories over creationist ideology.  It’s worrying if University academics are inhibited from challenging irrational beliefs in creationism.

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My regular Google alert popped this page at the Crossrhythms website into my consciousness: Creationism In Schools Isn’t Science – Part 1: Rebecca Duffett reports on the campaign. According to her byline, Rebecca Duffett is a student of broadcast journalism at Staffordshire University.  Anyway, the article seeks to take a look at the recently launched campaign against teaching creationism as science in schools (CrISIS). Fairly enough, she covers the bases evenly enough, with quotes from all sides – albeit uncritically presented.

As usual in these articles, Alastair Noble, Director of the Glasgow-based Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID), is characterised as a ‘scientist’, though it’s several decades since he practiced research science. The lead up to the quotation from Noble reads as follows:

Some scientists [my emphasis] claim that the Intelligent Design theory explains creation. Alistair Noble is from the UK Centre for Intelligent Design,

If you look at the BCSE’s notes on Alastair Noble, it’s actually clear that to characterise Noble as a scientist in this context is a little generous, as most of his activities in recent years have had a religious focus.  And the quotation rehashes a lot of the misinformation that C4ID peddle).  The C4ID website has a few pdf documents for download, and you can read my analysis of them on this blog (Intelligent Design).  The principal reason why Intelligent Design is not science but a rebranding of creationism was hashed out in court in the USA (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District), where there is a constitutional separation of religion from the state.

From my perspective, it’s clear that the appearance of design does not equal a demonstration of design.  Furthermore, one notes that Intelligent Design proponents fail to elaborate on who or what their ‘Designer’ was or is. And ID is intellectual cowardice – essentially it says “I can’t understand how this complex thing arose, so a Designer/God/Deity must have designed it”.

Rebecca claims:

The British Society for Science Education wants to see Intelligent Design eradicated from the classroom and deems it a strand of the Creationists Movement.

From my perspective, it’s important to note that the BCSE is religiously neutral (and indeed includes members who are church members) and that the CrISIS campaign (to which Rebecca refers but doesn’t provide links to) is actually aimed at preventing creationism being taught as a reputable scientific theory.  In my view, there’s no reason not to teach creationism in all its flavours along with all the other mythical, mystical and religious material in RE classes.  Remember: there is no evidence for biblical accuracy in the context of the origins of the world, other than the bible.

A final couple of notes for Rebecca: Web articles really ought to be supported by links to other sites; ‘Terry Moretonson’ is probably Terry Mortenson.  Intelligent Design is creationism (just not the same as Young Earth Creationism) – Wikipedia has a useful discussion (Intelligent Design).  Perhaps Part 2 will actually look at the claims made by Noble and Mortenson (particularly the dishonest claims by Mortenson about the biological and palaeontological evidence of evolution).

 

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